What’s Happening in Space Policy January 30-February 5, 2022

What’s Happening in Space Policy January 30-February 5, 2022

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of January 30-February 5, 2022 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

Things are comparatively quiet this week. It’s been so intensely busy that this is a nice break even if it may be the calm before the storm.

Which is a gentle reminder that government funding runs out in three weeks on February 18. Hopefully appropriators are making headway on settling FY2022 funding since it’s time for the President to send his FY2023 budget request to Congress. By law, that is supposed to happen on the first Monday in February. Tuesday is February 1, so that would be next Monday. So it’s definitely not going to be on time, which is understandable since it’s tough to figure out what to request for next year without knowing what anyone will get for this year. FY2022 began on October 1, 2021 and is one-third over already.

There are signs of progress. House Appropriations Democrats stopped those daily tweets with the countdown as to how many days it had been since Republicans would even meet with them. On January 13 the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), put out a joint statement saying they’d had a “constructive conversation” with their Republican counterparts about the “shared goal of finishing our work by the February 18 government funding deadline.” Perhaps we’ll hear some news this week.

Gigi Sohn, nominee for the Federal Communications Commission, at nomination hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee, Dec. 1, 2021. Screengrab.

While no space-related hearings have been announced for this week, the Senate Commerce Committee will take up 13 nominations on Wednesday including that of Gigi Sohn to be an FCC Commissioner. If confirmed, she will give Democrats a majority on the Commission, which is currently split 2-2. Her nomination is controversial (for reasons unrelated to space) so the outcome is not assured, but committee chair Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) must think she has the votes or she wouldn’t be bringing it up. The agenda could change, of course.

Off the Hill, the event we find most intriguing this week is on Thursday afternoon. The National Academies Committee on Astrobiology and Planetary Sciences (CAPS) has been tasked with conducting an independent review of the Network for Life Detection (NfoLD) White Paper on Standards of Evidence for Life Detection. NfoLD is a Research Coordination Network supported by NASA’s Astrobiology Program. The white paper is posted on its website.

Marina Koren, Staff Writer, The Atlantic (from her LinkedIn page).

Thursday is the third CAPS meeting to discuss five topics it was assigned, which include whether the paper lays out a “clear and transparent description of the process” for evaluating scientific claims that extraterrestial life has been discovered. Communicating with the public is important and two very highly respected “space” journalists are on the agenda to talk about the role of the press in reporting on such discoveries: Joel Achenbach of the Washington Post and Marina Koren of The Atlantic. Joining them are NASA’s Senior Science Communications Officer Karen Fox, and the Editor-in-Chief of American Astronomical Society Journals, Ethan Vishniac. The meeting will be livestreamed.

Another intriguing virtual event on Thursday is hosted by the University of Washington’s Space Research and Policy Center (SPARC). Greg Miller, an Associate Professor of Military and Security Studies at the Air Command and Staff College, will present his views on how the ability to remove space debris can undermine deterrence.  “An unintended consequence of debris removal is that it would weaken one of the elements of deterrence that prevents self-interested states from engaging in more frequent kinetic antisatellite tests or taking hostile actions against orbital objects. This talk discusses the issue of orbital debris, connects the existence of debris to deterrence, and then offers some solutions to mitigate the weakening of deterrence in the event that debris removal becomes a reality.” Sounds interesting.

John Mather, Project Scientist for JWST, with the James Webb Space Telescope’s primary mirror in the background at  NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD, May 4, 2016. Credit: NASA Goddard

On a completely different note, and also on Thursday afternoon, cosmologist John Mather will talk about all the exciting science expected from the James Webb Space Telescope, which reached its final destination last week. Mather won a Nobel Prize in Physics in 2006 for his groundbreaking work with the Cosmic Background Explorer Satellite (COBE) that provided evidence that the universe’s background radiation is a remnant from the Big Bang. JWST is designed to look back almost to that moment in time and see the first galaxies being formed among the many, many, many other celestial mysteries it will probe. Mather is JWST’s senior scientist and will chat with Mat Kaplan of the Planetary Society’s Planetary Radio. Kaplan is a superb interviewer and Mather an eloquent speaker, so that should be fascinating and fun.

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 and add to our Calendar, or changes to these.

Tuesday-Wednesday, February 1-2

Tuesday-Thursday, February 1-3

Wednesday, February 2

Wednesday-Thursday, February 2-3

Thursday, February 3

Friday-Saturday, February 4-5

This article has been updated.

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