What’s Happening in Space Policy August 13-September 1, 2017

What’s Happening in Space Policy August 13-September 1, 2017

Here is our list of space policy events for the next THREE weeks, August 13-September 1, 2017, and any insight we can offer about them.   The House and Senate are in recess until September 5 (except for pro forma sessions).

During the Weeks

With so few events coming up for the rest of the month, we’re combining them all into this issue of “What’s Happening.”

The two big events are a SpaceX cargo launch to the International Space Station (ISS) tomorrow (Monday) and a total solar eclipse that will be visible in 14 states on August 21.

The SpaceX launch is the company’s 12th operational Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) mission to the ISS  (SpaceX CRS-12 or SpX-12).  Launch is currently scheduled for tomorrow at 12:31 pm ET, a one-day slip from its originally announced date.  The weather forecast is 70 percent favorable.   Two pre-launch briefings will take place today, at 2:00 and 3:30 pm ET.  The first is a mission status update; the second will discuss what’s on board the Dragon spacecraft.  A post-launch press conference is scheduled for 2:00 pm ET tomorrow.  NASA TV will broadcast all of them

The total solar eclipse is noteworthy in the United States because it is rare for one to be visible across so much of the nation.  The path of the total eclipse, in which the Moon completely blocks out the Sun, travels from Oregon to South Carolina.  The rest of North America, South America, and parts of Europe and Africa will see a partial eclipse.  It begins in Oregon at 10:16 am Pacific Time and ends in South Carolina at 2:48 pm Eastern.  Several websites have maps of exactly where totality will be visible and when.  One of our favorites is timeanddate.com.

NASA and others are making a big deal out of the eclipse not only because it’s scientifically interesting, but for safety reasons.  First, NEVER LOOK DIRECTLY AT THE SUN UNLESS YOU ARE WEARING ECLIPSE GLASSES. Those are NOT sunglasses, but very special eclipse glasses that protect your eyes.  They are widely available, but the American  Astronomical Society (AAS) is warning that some of those being sold are counterfeit.   AAS has a website devoted to the topic and how to ensure that yours will, in fact, protect you.

Second, transportation officials are worried both about the volume of traffic on the roads as people try to get to the areas of totality, which may create jams, as well as distracted drivers who are on the road and looking at the eclipse instead of the road ahead.

The good news is that if you’re not in the path of totality, you can watch the whole thing on a variety of NASA media outlets from NASA TV to Facebook.   NASA will provide four hours (9:00 am – 1:00 pm Pacific Time; 12:00-4:00 pm Eastern) of programming featuring views from NASA aircraft, balloons, satellites, and specially modified telescopes.  Should be fun!

Apart from launches and solar eclipses, a rather intriguing presentation is coming up on August 20.  The National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC will have a lecture by two imaging specialists on “Using NASA Rover Technology to Explore Paintings.”   Those of you in the DC area looking for something to do that Sunday afternoon may want to check it out.

From August 15-17, the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) will hold its annual Low-Cost Planetary Missions conference.  This year it is at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, CA.

The National Academies’ committee that is performing the mid-term review of the planetary science Decadal Survey will meet at the Academies’ Jonsson Center in Woods Hole, MA the last week of August. NASA’s Mars program lead scientist Michael Meyer said last month that the agency would lay out its plan for future robotic Mars exploration at that meeting.  NASA Mars Exploration Program Director Jim Watzin is on the agenda for the morning of August 29, so presumably that is when we all will learn what’s coming up.  Many Mars scientists are getting a little worried since there are no approved U.S. missions on the schedule beyond the Mars 2020 rover.  They are particularly anxious to get a new orbiter that, at a minimum, can take over as a communications relay between landers on the surface and Earth.  Opportunity, Curiosity and Mars 2020 cannot transmit directly back to Earth.  Their signals only go to spacecraft orbiting Mars, which then send them to Earth.  The relay-capable orbiters that are there now are getting pretty old.

Those and other events we know about as of August 13 are shown below.  Check back throughout the weeks for others that we learn about later and add to our Calendar.

Sunday, August 13

Monday, August 14

Tuesday, August 15

Tuesday-Thursday, August 15-17

Wednesday, August 16

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Sunday, August 20

Monday, August 21

  • Solar Eclipse, various times, various locations, NASA programming available 9:00 am – 1:00 pm Pacific Time (12:00-4:00 pm Eastern)

Tuesday, August 22

Monday-Wednesday, August 28-30

Thursday, August 31


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