What’s Happening in Space Policy April 12-25, 2020

What’s Happening in Space Policy April 12-25, 2020

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the next TWO weeks, April 12-25, 2020, and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in recess, except for pro forma sessions, until at least April 20.

During the Weeks

Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. Credit: NASA website

Happy Cosmonautics Day!  It was 59 years ago today that the era of human spaceflight opened with the launch of Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.  He made one orbit of the Earth and landed to a hero’s welcome in the Soviet Union, which incentivized the United States to catch up.  We launched Alan Shepard on a suborbital flight just three weeks later — and JFK committed the United States to landing a man on the Moon by the end of the decade just three weeks after that — but it wasn’t until February 20, 1962 that we matched Gagarin’s feat with John Glenn’s orbital flight.  The Space Race was on and to the extent the winner was whoever put people on the Moon first, the United States did with Apollo 11 on July 20, 1969.

STS-1 astronauts John Young (L) and Bob Crippen (R). Credit: NASA

Today is also the 39th anniversary of the first U.S. space shuttle launch.  That was by coincidence, not design.  STS-1 was supposed to launch on April 10, but a problem with the shuttle’s general purpose computers forced a two-day delay.  STS-1 was the only time a human spacecraft was flown for the first time with a crew aboard. In all other cases before and after, in the three countries that have launched people into space, uncrewed test flights have preceded crews, but the space shuttle needed pilots so John Young and Bob Crippen were aboard this groundbreaking flight.   The shuttle was an integral part of building the International Space Station (ISS), in which Russia became a partner after the Soviet Union collapsed, and we are now working together in advancing human exploration and utilization of space.

Apollo 13 Flight Director Gene Kranz (with cigar) in Mission Control after successful splashdown of Apollo 13, with image of commander Jim Lovell on the screen at the front of the room. Credit: NASA

Speaking of anniversaries, tomorrow is another big one, this one not a happy landmark — the 50th anniversary of the day the Apollo 13 service module exploded while three astronauts were on the way to the Moon.  The mission itself did have a happy ending four days later when, thanks to the amazing work of the ground control team led by the legendary Gene Kranz, the crew — Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise — safely splashed down in the Pacific Ocean.

Often referred to as a “successful failure,” NASA and the Kansas Cosmosphere in Hutchison, Kansas, where the Apollo 13 spacecraft is on display, are commemorating the 50th anniversary. Unfortunately, planned events had to be scrapped because of the coronavirus pandemic so the occasion will be marked virtually instead. In interviews with Robert Pearlman of collectSPACE, Haise and Lovell expressed their disappointment. (Swigert died in 1982.) Haise quoted Lovell as saying “the curse of Apollo 13 continues.”

Lovell and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine co-authored an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal with an inspiring message connecting Apollo 13 and today’s Artemis program: “We, as a nation, must continue to do hard things. That’s how we soar into the heavens and progress as a civilization.”

From left, Apollo 13 Lunar Module Pilot Fred Haise, Apollo 13 Commander Jim Lovell, President Richard Nixon, and Apollo 13 Command Module Pilot Jack Swigert, at Hickam Air Force Base the day after splashdown, Credit: NASA

The Apollo 13 crew returned to Earth on April 17 and now, 50 years later, two other American astronauts will be landing that day.  NASA astronauts Drew Morgan and Jessica Meir and their Russian colleague Oleg Skripochka are scheduled to land in Kazakhstan very early Friday morning (1:17 am EDT) after many months aboard the ISS.  Meir and Skripochka launched together on September 25 on Soyuz MS-15, the spacecraft that will bring them home.  Morgan was already aboard ISS.  He launched with two others (who already are home) on July 20.  Pearlman pointed out a couple of fun coincidences about Morgan’s launch/landing dates and the number of the “expedition” that will begin April 17 on ISS with the new crew that just arrived (Cassidy/Ivanishin/Vagner).

And we’re not done with anniversaries yet! April 22 is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, which traces its origin in part to the iconic Apollo 8 “Earthrise” photo, which helped spur environmental awareness on our Pale Blue Dot.  (Apollo 13 commander Lovell was on Apollo 8, too. He is one of only three people who made the trip to the Moon twice.)  The Earth Day Network organizes events around the world every year to focus attention on the environment. NASA is among the organizations sponsoring Earth Day events. As with most things right now, everything will be virtual.

Earthrise, as seen by the Apollo 8 crew as they circled the Moon on Christmas Eve, 1968.  They were the first humans to see this view of Earth in person.

It’s a good thing we have so many anniversaries to celebrate because there’s not a lot going on otherwise. Two of the most interesting meetings that were scheduled for this week have been postponed for reasons NASA has not shared: the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) Human Exploration and Operations Committee (HEO) and NAC’s Regulatory and Policy Committee. It’s the second postponement of the HEO committee meeting, where NASA was expected to lay out its new plan for Artemis publicly.

The congressional schedule is up in the air.  Both chambers set April 20 as their return date when they left in late March, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi indicated a few days ago that she is reconsidering whether to bring the 435-member House back into session that quickly. Democrats and Republicans are at odds right now on the next COVID-19 relief bill. Senate Republicans and the White House are seeking $250 billion for small businesses, but Democrats want an additional $250 billion for hospitals and state and local governments.

Ordinarily both chambers are busily engaged in hearings for authorization and appropriations bills this time of year.  The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) tried an innovative approach called “paper hearings” that we described last week, but it already has thrown in the towel because DOD was “struggling” to meet the one-week deadline to respond to questions in writing. The leadership of SASC and HASC both are anxious to move forward with the FY2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), but concede they will have to wait and see how things go with COVID-19.  Despite political turmoil, the 9-11 terrorist attack, and natural disasters, Congress has passed an NDAA every year, without fail, since the first in 1961.  Appropriations must pass by midnight September 30 to keep the government operating, but that likely will be a Continuing Resolution (CR).  Even without COVID-19, it’s difficult to pass full-year appropriations bills immediately prior to an election that could change which part(ies) control Congress and the White House.

Not to despair, though.  Some activities are still taking place virtually.  The Aerospace Corporation’s “Space Policy Show” series continues on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 1:00 pm ET.  NASA’s Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group (MEPAG) is still on for this Wednesday-Friday.  Note that it now will be hosted on Adobe Connect instead of Zoom because of the security problems on Zoom and new NASA guidance prohibiting its use for NASA-sponsored meetings.  The Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel meets next Thursday (April 22).

The Air Force Academy graduation ceremony on April 18 will be livestreamed ONLY on YouTube and Facebook.  Chief of Space Operations and Commander of U.S. Space Command Gen. Jay Raymond said last week he now expects 88 cadets to be directly commissioned into the Space Force, up from the 64 he said earlier.  As we explained last week, Raymond and Chief Master Sergeant Roger Towberman are the only two members of the Space Force at the moment.  Another 16,000 are assigned to the Space Force, but have not yet transferred into the new service.

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below.  Check back throughout the weeks for others we learn about later and add to our Calendar or modify as new information becomes available.

One last note:  in case you missed it, the International Astronautical Federation (IAF) has postponed this year’s International Astronautical Congress (IAC) that was to be held in Dubai in October.  IAC is probably the largest annual international gathering of the space community and hasn’t missed a year since the first in 1950. The IAF is “reassessing” the dates and venues for future IACs.  All we know now is that there will be no IAC in 2020.  But also ICYMI, the Space Symposium has been rescheduled for October 31-November 3 at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, CO as usual.  So there still will be an opportunity for the space community to get together.

Tuesday, April 14

Tuesday-Wednesday, April 14-15

Wednesday-Friday, April 15-17

Thursday, April 16

Thursday-Friday, April 16-17

  • Return of Soyuz MS-15 (NASA TV)
    • April 16, 9:53 pm ET — undocking (NASA TV coverage begins 9:30 pm ET)
    • April 17, 12:22 am ET — deorbit burn
    • April 17, 1:17 am ET — landing (NASA TV coverage of deorbit burn and landing begins 12:00 am ET)

Saturday, April 18

Monday, April 20

Tuesday, April 21


Wednesday, April 22

Thursday, April 23

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