What’s Happening in Space Policy January 24-30, 2021

What’s Happening in Space Policy January 24-30, 2021

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of January 24-30, 2021 and any insight we can offer about them.  The Senate is in session this week.  The House will meet only in pro forma sessions.

During the Week

One event we especially want to highlight this week is on Thursday, January 28.  That is the 35th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger tragedy and NASA will hold its annual Day of Remembrance that day.  It honors all fallen astronauts, including not only the Challenger crew, but those of Apollo 1 (January 27, 1967) and Space Shuttle Columbia (February 1, 2003). Challenger experienced a catastrophic event 73 seconds after launch and all seven astronauts aboard were killed:  NASA astronauts Dick Scobee, Michael Smith, Ron McNair, Judy Resnick, and Ellison Onizuka; Teacher in Space Christa McAuliffe; and payload specialist Greg Jarvis from Hughes Aircraft.

L-R: front row, Michael Smith, Dick Scobee, Ron McNair. Back row, Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Greg Jarvis, Judy Resnick.

Kennedy Space Center (KSC), the Astronauts Memorial Foundation and the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex will hold an event at 11:00 am ET where KSC Center Director and former astronaut Bob Cabana and retired shuttle flight director Mike Leinbach will speak.  It is by invitation only because of COVID-19, but will be livestreamed on Facebook.  Unfortunately the KSC Visitor Center press release does not specify what Facebook site. If we find out, we will add it to our Calendar entry.   NASA HQ typically holds a wreath laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. We haven’t seen any announcement about it, but Keith Cowing of @NASAWatch who often attends that event recently tweeted “NASA HQ will have a Remembrance Day ceremony at Arlington Nat’l Cemetery as they have for decades but they’re not taking guests & apparently don’t want the public to try to attend an event being held in a large, outdoor public place due to COVID. Something will be posted online.”  If we find out any more, we’ll post the information to our Calendar entry.

Israel also holds an annual conference in honor of Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli astronaut, who perished in the Columbia tragedy. That will take place on Wednesday as part of Israeli Space Week, which also includes a joint event with the International Astronautical Federation (IAF) on Tuesday.

Up on Capitol Hill, the 117th Congress is still organizing. Considering the failed insurrection on January 6 and subsequent second impeachment of President Trump, the inauguration ceremony on January 20, and the 50-50 split in the Senate that wasn’t determined until this month, it’s no surprise the regular work of Congress is getting off to a slow start. The only substantive hearings are in the Senate for nominations to President Biden’s cabinet. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell need to reach agreement on a host of topics on how the Senate will conduct its business. They hadn’t as of Friday. It’s not even clear at this point who is holding the gavel at these hearings — the top Democrat or the top Republican. Hopefully they will work this out soon, but McConnell is insisting that, as part of the deal, Democrats agree right now not to try and eliminate the filibuster for the next two years. Democrats have not been willing to make that commitment at this point in time.

Four Cabinet appointees are influential on space issues. Two are already confirmed and on the job: Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Avril Haines and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III.  The nomination hearing of Secretary of Transportation-designate Pete Buttigieg was held last week and the one for Secretary of Commerce-designate Gina Raimondo is this Tuesday. Hearings for other Cabinet appointees are scheduled this week and Janet Yellen’s nomination to be Secretary of the Treasury will be voted on by the Senate tomorrow (Monday), but those positions have only indirect effects, if any, on space activities.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold an organizational meeting (virtually) this week, but there is no word on when other House committees will organize.  At the moment, the House is not scheduled to meet for legislative business until February 8, but committee meetings are allowed to take place.  Perhaps we’ll see more action in coming days.

Off the Hill, the number of webinars, conferences and other types of meetings has resumed its pre-holiday cadence, with far too many to mention here.  To pick just a few, let’s start with NASA. (All virtual unless otherwise noted.)

NASA’s Science Mission Directorate will hold a Town Hall meeting for the “community,” including the public, tomorrow  (Monday) afternoon.  Its Small Bodies Assessment Group (SBAG) meets Tuesday-Wednesday. The Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group (MEPAG) meets Wednesday afternoon and NASA also holds a media briefing on the upcoming landing of Mars Perseverance that afternoon. The NASA Advisory Council’s Technology, Innovation and Engineering Committee also meets Wednesday. The NSF-NASA-DOE Astronomy and Astrophysics Advisory Committee meets Tuesday-Wednesday. NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins and Victor Glover will do a spacewalk at the International Space Station on Wednesday, the first of  two. The other is February 1.

The annual International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) Space Traffic Management (STM) conference is Tuesday-Wednesday.  The theme this year is “Trust, but Verify: Incentivizing Compliance Through Shared Monitoring and Assessment” and has an impressive array of U.S. and international panelists.  Kevin O’Connell gives the keynote address on Tuesday at 9:10 am ET (note that times are on the agenda are in CENTRAL time). He was Director of NOAA’s Office of Space Commerce, which is in charge of creating a civil STM capability in the United States, until last week. As a political appointee, his term ended on January 20 with the close of the Trump Administration. He and his team have been doing amazing work with the meager resources they’ve been allocated and he surely will be missed.

The biennial Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) conference begins on Thursday.  It’s another one of those fascinating conferences chock full of interesting talks on recent space science developments that has been upended by COVID-19.  Originally to be held in Sydney, Australia, most of it now will be virtual. The theme is Connecting Space Research for Global Impact and looks just wonderful.  There’s a Space Agency Roundtable on Saturday, January 30 at 14:00 Central European Time (CET, or 8:00 am Eastern Standard Time) that may be of broad interest.  Note that some times on the agenda are CET (subtract 6 for EST), but most are Australian Eastern Daylight Time (AEDT, subtract 16 for EST, which may mean the day before whatever time is listed in the program).

One final highlight — we are intrigued by a Politico/Aerospace Corporation webinar on Wednesday entitled “Ready to Launch: Space Policy in the Biden Era.” They haven’t announced who the panelists are yet, but the Secure World Foundation website reveals that its Washington Office Director, Victoria Samson, is one of them and will talk about national security space policy options.  It’s sure to be interesting.  An hour later, the Beyond Earth Institute will take its own look at what the Biden-Harris administration may mean for its priority–building communities beyond Earth.  Greg Autry and Jim Muncy are the panelists for that one.

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below.  Check back throughout the week for others we learn about later, or updates to these, and post to our Calendar.

Monday, January 25

Tuesday, January 26

Tuesday-Wednesday, January 26-27

Wednesday, January 27

Thursday, January 28

Thursday-Friday, January 28-29

Thursday, January 28 – Thursday, February 4


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