What’s Happening in Space Policy January 21-26, 2018

What’s Happening in Space Policy January 21-26, 2018

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of January 21-26, 2018.  The House and Senate are in session today trying to resolve the government shutdown.  The House was supposed to be in recess this coming week, but its schedule now is uncertain.  The Senate was planning to be in session in any case.

During the Week

Many U.S. Government functions are shut down indefinitely because appropriated funding lapsed at midnight Friday when the Senate failed to approve a House-passed Continuing Resolution (CR) to extend funding to February 16.  “Indefinitely” could be hours, days or weeks depending on the political situation.

Yesterday morning, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell initiated a procedural move (“cloture”) to bring to the floor a modified CR that would shorten its duration from four weeks to three (to February 8), but is apparently otherwise unchanged.  The duration of the original CR was one complaint because some Democrats and Republicans object to this ongoing series of CRs (this is the fourth since FY2018 began on October 1, 2017) instead of dealing with the fundamental issues and passing full-year funding for the agencies, particularly the Department of Defense.

However, the crux of the debate is Democratic insistence that Congress and the President reach agreement on protections for people who were brought to this country illegally as children — the Deferred Action for  Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or “Dreamers” issue — before or as part of a funding agreement.  Republicans are equally insistent that Democrats agree to reopen the government before they will negotiate on immigration.

Under Senate procedure, action on a cloture motion must wait until the second day after it is presented.  In this case, that means Monday (tomorrow).  It then may be called up one hour or more after the Senate convenes.  McConnell has scheduled the vote for 1:00 am ET Monday.  (The Congressional Research Service has an excellent report on filibusters and cloture motions that is posted on the Senate website.)

Sixty votes are required to pass, the same threshold that was needed Friday night.  In that case, the vote was 50-49.  Although this is primarily a Republican versus Democratic fight, 5 Republicans voted with Democrats against the CR and 5 Democrats voted with Republicans in favor of it, so it is not entirely partisan.  (Note that McConnell himself voted no, but that was for procedural reasons.  Sen. McCain is not in town due to his illness, so did not vote.)  The CR includes a 6-year extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which lapsed several months ago (on September l).  CHIP provides insurance for 9 million low- and middle-income children.  Republicans argue that Democrats now are preventing those children from being insured; Democrats counter that it is Republicans who allowed the insurance to lapse in the first place and have been holding back on renewing the program precisely so they could use it as a bargaining chip in a situation like this. If they are that concerned about the children, many Democrats argue, a CHIP extension could be passed separately at any time.  But at least one of the Democrats who voted in favor of the CR, Doug Jones, newly elected from Alabama, said he did so because many children in his state need CHIP.

In essence, the impasse is politically driven (no surprise) and how and when it will get resolved is anyone’s guess.

The government will remain in shutdown mode until funding is restored.  Some operations continue, including those are are not funded through the appropriations process (e.g., Social Security and Medicare, the U.S. Postal Service, activities funded by fees collected by agencies like the FCC or DOT) or are deemed “essential.”  The New York Times has a useful wrap-up of who’s working and who’s not.

Military operations are among those that are essential, as are NOAA’s operation of the National Weather Service and NASA’s operation of the International Space Station (ISS).   The ISS crew and mission controllers on the ground are not affected by the shutdown other than they must work without pay for now at least.  After past shutdowns, essential government workers were paid retroactively.

NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei and Scott Tingle are scheduled to make a spacewalk on Tuesday and that will go ahead as planned, but NASA TV probably will not be able to broadcast it if the shutdown continues.

NASA also plans to hold its annual Day of Remembrance this week (on Thursday) in memory of those who lost their lives in the pursuit of space exploration including the crews of Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia.  NASA’s earth science advisory committee and the NSF-NASA-DOE astronomy and astrophysics advisory committee also have meetings this week.  Whether those go forward or not depends on the shutdown situation.

The National Academies Committee on Extraterrestrial Sample Analysis Facilities is scheduled to meet tomorrow through Wednesday, but many of the speakers are from the government, so the status of that meeting is uncertain.

The Sherman & Howard/Secure World Foundation “Space and Cyber Seminar” in Colorado Springs on Tuesday does not have any current government employees as speakers, but if you are planning to attend, it’s probably best to check with the sponsors to make sure it is taking place.

SpaceX’s static fire test of its Falcon Heavy rocket has slipped day by day as the company strives to ensure that everything is working correctly on the 27-engine rocket before hitting the ignition switch.  The company was planning to try tomorrow (Monday), but Irene Klotz of Aviation Week & Space Technology tweeted this afternoon that the test has been cancelled because of the shutdown.  The test is at a government facility — Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A, which SpaceX leases from NASA.

The 45th Space Wing at Patrick Air Force Base, which operates the Eastern Test Range and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, adjacent to KSC, also will be impacted.

Basically, what happens or doesn’t happen in the coming week is largely dependent on whether the House, Senate and White House can reach agreement on government funding.  Stay tuned.

Bearing that in mind, here is our list of events for the week, but almost all of them are tentativeCheck back throughout the week for updates on the shutdown and the addition of other events we learn about later and add to our Calendar.

Monday, January 22

Monday-Wednesday, January 22-24

Tuesday, January 23

Tuesday-Wednesday, January 23-24

Wednesday-Thursday, January 24-25

Thursday, January 25

Thursday-Friday, January 25-26



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