What's Happening in Space Policy February 29 – March 4, 2016

What's Happening in Space Policy February 29 – March 4, 2016

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of February 29 – March 4, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

It’s another busy week  — on the Hill, off the Hill, and off the planet. 

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly is finishing up his last days on the International Space Station (ISS) as part of the “year in space” mission (it’s not quite a year, actually, but about 340 days).  He and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko have been on ISS since March 27, 2015 (Eastern Time) to further studies of human physiological and psychological adaptation to spaceflight in preparation for even longer trips to destinations like Mars.   Theirs is not the longest duration mission — four Russian cosmonauts spent 365 days or more continuously on the Soviet/Russian space station Mir in the 1980s and 1990s — but is the most recent and Kelly is the first American on such a long mission.  (The record for total consecutive
days in space is held by cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov who
spent 438 days aboard the Mir space station in 1994-1995.  Sergei Avdeyev spent 380 days on Mir in 1998-1999.  Vladimir Titov and Musa Manarov spent 365 days together on Mir in
1987-1988.  In all cases, other crews came and went during those missions.)

Kelly and Kornienko are scheduled to land in the Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft along with cosmonaut Sergei Volkov (who arrived at ISS in September) very late Tuesday night — 11:27 ET.   Kelly will embark on his trip home to Houston very soon thereafter, arriving late Wednesday night (11:45 pm ET) where he will be greeted by Second Lady of the United States Dr. Jill Biden and other White House and NASA dignitaries.   On Friday, he will participate in a press briefing from Johnson Space Center at 2:00 pm ET, preceded at 1:00 by a briefing by two NASA scientists and his identical twin brother, Mark.   The two brothers have been part of a Twins Study during the mission.  NASA TV will cover it all.

It may be hard to top that in terms of news value, but there is much more going on, including quite a few congressional hearings on military and civil space programs.  Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh III will appear before the House Appropriations defense subcommittee on Wednesday and the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.  FAA Administrator Michael Huerta will testify to the House Appropriations Transportation-HUD subcommittee on Wednesday, though it is not clear how much focus will be on the $19.8 million request for the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation.  

Perhaps of most interest to readers of this website is a House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee hearing on Thursday on NASA’s new “Ocean Worlds” program.  Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), who chairs the subcommittee, is an enthusiast for sending a probe to Jupiter’s moon Europa, which is thought to have an ocean under its icy crust.  It is not the only solar system body thought to have an ocean and Culberson directed NASA to initiate a program to explore these “ocean worlds” in his report on last year’s appropriations bill.  He has invited Charles Elachi, director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), and Cornell’s Jonathan Lunine to testify about the program.   JPL is a federally funded research and development center (FFRDC) operated by the California Institute of Technology (CalTech), so some people consider it a NASA field center while others point out it is a contractor and not “government” in the same sense as the rest of NASA.   Thus one can say that the hearing has a NASA witness or not as one chooses, but it is interesting to see just this one part of NASA’s program singled out for a hearing, reflecting the chairman’s intense interest.  Culberson says often that he is convinced that evidence of life will be discovered on Europa and hence he believes this is one of NASA’s top priorities.  Elachi is retiring this summer, by the way, after 15 years at the helm of JPL (part of a 45 year career there).  He will move over to CalTech as professor emeritus to continue his research.  His successor has not been announced. 

Meanwhile, there are meetings of the Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group (MEPAG), several NASA advisory committees, National Academy of Sciences (NAS) committees, the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop, an ISU-DC space cafe, an Orbital-ATK investors teleconference, and an announcement by NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden about NASA’s new plans for X-planes.  Whew!  Get out your running shoes.

The many events of interest this week that we know about as of Sunday morning are listed below.  Check back throughout the week for additional events that we learn about later and add to our Events of Interest list.

Oh, and happy Leap Year!  We certainly need that extra day.

Sunday-Wednesday, February 28-March 2

Monday, February 29

Tuesday, March 1

Tuesday-Wednesday, March 1-2

Wednesday, March 2

Wednesday-Thursday, March 2-3

Wednesday-Friday, March 2-4

Thursday, March 3

Friday, March 4


Editor’s Note:  NASA has countdown clocks on its website for the 1-year mission showing elapsed time and remaining time.   At this moment (February 29, 5:50 pm) it shows that the mission duration for the two men will be 340 days, 7 hours, 44 minutes and 2 seconds, not “just under 342 days” as we calculated yesterday.  The text has been changed accordingly.

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