What’s Happening in Space Policy July 29-August 4, 2018

What’s Happening in Space Policy July 29-August 4, 2018

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of July 29-August 4, 2018 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House is on a 5-week summer recess except for pro forma sessions and will return for legislative business on September 4.  The Senate is in session this week.

During the Week

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, NASA!  Today (Sunday, July 29) is the 60th anniversary of the day that President Eisenhower signed into law the National Aeronautics and Space Act, which created NASA.  The agency opened its doors just over 2 months later, on October 1, 1958, and many consider October 1 to be NASA’s real birthday, but today counts too!  NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine sent a memo to employees on Friday marking the occasion. He praised the past 60 years of U.S. leadership in aeronautics, science and space technology and promised more to come.  “I am confident the next 60 years will tell a similar story. We will continue to lead. We will move our  civilization forward through exploration and discovery, and we will inspire the next generation to build upon our legacy of achievement.”

Today, House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) issued her own statement in honor of the occasion.  It says in part: “The discoveries have been incredible and seemingly endless. I am excited to see what new heights they enable us to reach next.”

Johnson and the other Members of the House are back in their districts for the next 5 weeks, most of them campaigning for reelection. Usually the Senate would also be in recess for the month of August, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell decided to keep the Senate in session for most of the month to get more work done.  This coming week, the Senate is expected to pass the conference version of the FY2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which passed the House on Thursday.  It would be the earliest the defense authorization bill has cleared Congress in recent memory.

The Senate is also expected to pass a “minibus” FY2019 appropriations bill combining four of the 12 regular appropriations bills.  The House and Senate already have passed one minibus– a term coined to refer to a smaller (mini) collection of the 12 bills than the “omnibus” that Congress often ends up passing that includes them all.  That minibus combined three bills: Energy & Water, Legislative Branch, and Military Construction/Veterans Affairs.  It passed the Defense bill separately.  The House also passed another set of two (Interior/Environment and Financial Services). The minibus the Senate is now considering combines those two with Agriculture and Transportation/HUD (THUD).

To sum it all up, at this point in time all 12 appropriations bills have been approved by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.  Three have passed both the House and Senate.  Three more have passed the House and the Senate is expected soon to vote on a set of four (including two of those) this week.

They do not, however, include the two bills that fund most government space activities, Defense and Commerce-Justice-Science (NASA and NOAA).   The FAA’s space office is in THUD and the USGS’s operations of Landsat are in the Interior bill, but that’s it.

When the House returns on September 4, four weeks will remain before the beginning of FY2019 although the House is scheduled to be in session for only 11 of those days.  It is conceivable that some of the 12 appropriations bills actually might be enacted before October 1, but not all of them.

That means one of two things — a Continuing Resolution or a shutdown for those agencies whose bills have not passed. Yes, it’s that season again.  President Trump tweeted his shutdown threat this morning.

That will all play out over the next two months. As for this coming week, NASA’s Exoplanet Exploration Program Analysis Group (ExoPAG) is meeting today in Cambridge, MA in advance of the week-long Cambridge Workshop on Cool Stars.

Tomorrow (Monday), the Brookings Institution will hold a seminar on the pros and cons of establishing a Space Force.  Brookings doesn’t often weigh in on space policy issues, but they’ve got an impressive line-up of speakers including former Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James and former Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance Frank Rose.  Unfortunately, it is an “in-person event only.” No webcast.

On Wednesday, the Senate Commerce Committee will mark up the Space Frontier Act (along with several other bills and nominations) in the morning and hold a hearing on the search for life in the afternoon.  The hearing features MIT’s Sara Seager, Princeton’s David Spergel, former NASA Chief Scientist Ellen Stofan (now the Director of the National Air and Space Museum), and NASA Associate Administrator for Science Thomas Zurbuchen.  The committee’s announcement said this is the second in a series of hearings leading up to a “potential” new NASA authorization bill. The first was held last week and focused on human exploration.

One note about the Space Frontier Act, which we summarized on Thursday, the day it was made public.  We were contacted by Sen. Cruz’s press secretary yesterday (Saturday) who said we misunderstood the bill, that “we do not get into the DOT vs DOC fight” but only maintain the status quo by allowing DOT to continue to use its enhanced payload review process.  We replied that the bill explicitly allows DOT to authorize non-governmental space activities not subject to authorization under other Federal law.  Thus, it tells companies to go to DOT, not DOC.  We offered to add a quote from the Senator about what his intent is, but have not heard back.  If we do, we will update our article accordingly.

On Friday, Bridenstine will be at Johnson Space Center to announce which astronauts have been assigned to fly the first commercial crew flights. Four NASA astronauts were selected in 2015 to train to fly Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon: Robert Behnken, Eric Boe, Douglas Hurley and Sunita Williams.  Bridenstine will announce who will fly which vehicle.  Hopefully he will also say when those flights will take place.  The schedule posted on NASA’s Commercial Crew Program website shows Boeing’s first flight with a crew in November of this year and SpaceX’s in December.  It is hard to find anyone who thinks those dates will hold.  Uncrewed tests flights must take place first.  The crew assignment announcement will be broadcast on NASA TV and the agency’s website.

The pre-conference workshop for the annual smallsat conference at Utah State University is on Saturday and Sunday.  The conference itself begins on August 6 and we will report on it in next week’s edition.

All the 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.

Sunday, July 29

  • ExoPAG, Hyatt Regency, Cambridge, MA, 9:00 am – 6:00 pm ET (Adobe Connect)

Monday, July 30

Wednesday, August 1

Friday, August 3

Saturday-Sunday, August 4-5

Note: this article has been corrected. An earlier version did not indicate that the House has passed the defense appropriations bill, but it did on June 28.

User Comments

SpacePolicyOnline.com has the right (but not the obligation) to monitor the comments and to remove any materials it deems inappropriate.  We do not post comments that include links to other websites since we have no control over that content nor can we verify the security of such links.