What’s Happening in Space Policy September 15-21, 2019

What’s Happening in Space Policy September 15-21, 2019

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of September 15-21, 2019 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

October 1 is just a little over two weeks away and no FY2020 appropriations bills have cleared Congress yet.  The House will take up a Continuing Resolution (CR) this week to keep the government operating for a period of time. House leadership hasn’t said how long that will be, but the best guess is Thanksgiving.  Assuming it passes, it then will have to pass the Senate and be signed into law by President Trump before midnight September 30 or government agencies will have to suspend all but essential operations.  Congress does not want another shutdown, but they didn’t want the last one either as we said last week.  That 35-day partial government shutdown (December 22, 2018-January 25, 2019) took place when Trump changed his mind at the last minute and chose not to sign the CR the Republican-controlled Congress had passed.  What that portends for this round — when control of Congress is split between Democrats (House) and Republicans (Senate) — is anyone’s guess.

The House has passed 10 of the 12 regular appropriations bills (all except Homeland Security and Legislative Branch).  The Senate has not passed any.  The Senate Appropriations Committee approved two, Defense and Energy-Water, last week and it will consider three more this week:  Transportation-HUD (THUD), Agriculture, and Financial Services.  No word yet on when any of those will go the floor or when the committee will take up the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) bill that funds NASA and NOAA.  The FAA’s space office is in the THUD bill.

The Senate has a long way to go to pass its own bills and then they have to get through conference with the House, so a CR does seem inevitable.  That could be a problem for NASA’s Artemis program, which is trying to meet a 2024 deadline to get astronauts back on the Moon. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has made it clear that if Congress does not provide the additional $1.6 billion the agency requested for FY2020 in June, that deadline can’t be met. It’s not just a matter of getting the money, but when NASA gets it.  A delay of two months might not be too bad if NASA was certain the money was coming eventually, but the House did not include it in its version of the CJS bill, which passed the House in June.  Hopes are riding high that the Senate will put the money in its bill, but whether it would survive conference negotiations remains to be seen. All that will happen in future weeks.  We’ll keep you posted.

The House is scheduled to take up two bills this week to honor space program luminaries.  The Hidden Figures Congressional Gold Medal Act (H.R. 1396), sponsored by House SS&T Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), will award individual medals to four women (Katherine Johnson, Christine Darden, and posthumously to Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson) and a group medal to all women who served as computers, mathematicians and engineers in NASA’s early years.  The Christa McAuliffe Commemorative Coin Act directs the Secretary of the Treasury to mint and issue not more than 350,000 $1 coins to honor McAuliffe, the first Teacher in Space, who perished in the 1986 space shuttle Challenger tragedy.  The bill notes that 2019 is the 30th anniversary of the international non-profit FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), whose mission is inspiring children to study STEM fields.  Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) sponsored the bill (S. 239), which passed the Senate on July 10.  FIRST is based in Manchester, NH.  McAuliffe was a teacher in nearby Concord, NH when she was selected for the Teacher in Space program.

Speaking of STEM, the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee will hold a hearing on STEM with witnesses from NASA and the National Science Foundation (NSF) on Thursday.

Also on the Hill this week, the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will get an update on Wednesday on core elements of NASA’s future human exploration program. The Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, the Orion crew spacecraft, and associated Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) have been in development for many years and are intended to be used not only for Artemis, but for sending people to Mars someday.

The hearing comes at a time when leadership of those programs at NASA is in transition. Bridenstine ousted Bill Gerstenmaier and Bill Hill in June and has not named their replacements yet.  Hill was the person at NASA HQ in charge of SLS/Orion/EGS, and Gerstenmaier was his boss and in charge of all of NASA’s human exploration and operations (HEO) activities. Gerstenmaier’s deputy, former astronaut Ken Bowersox, is the acting head of the HEO Mission Directorate (HEOMD) and will be at the witness table on Wednesday. Doug Cooke will also be at the table. He was Gerstenmaier’s predecessor for exploration.  Cooke retired from NASA in 2011 after 38 years at the agency and is now a consultant. For his last three years at NASA, he headed the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate (ESMD, which merged with the Space Operations Mission Directorate in 2011 to create HEOMD) during the changeover from the George W. Bush Administration to the Obama Administration. That was when Obama terminated Bush’s Constellation program to get astronauts back on the Moon by 2020 and replaced it with a program that bypassed the Moon and focused instead on getting people first to an asteroid and then orbiting Mars in the 2030s.  Also testifying is GAO’s Cristina Chaplain, who has led a number of GAO studies that warned of schedule delays and cost overruns on these programs.  The most recent was in June.  Should be a VERY interesting hearing.

On a different note, Brad Pitt is starring in a new sci-fi movie, Ad Astra, and will be here in D.C. tomorrow (Monday) to discuss it at a Washington Post Live event.  Joining him on stage will be the movie’s writer, director and producer, James Gray, and two NASA experts — Sarah Noble, planetary geologist and program scientist at NASA HQ, and Lindsay Aitchison, a spacesuit engineer who is EVA Strategy Lead at NASA HQ.  The event will be webcast.  The movie certainly looks … interesting … based on the trailer.  It opens this week. [UPDATE: NASA just announced that Pitt will speak with ISS crew member Nick Hague tomorrow, too. That’s at 11:35 am ET. It will air on NASA TV and NASA Live.]

As usual, there are far too many events to highlight here, but they include the annual AMOS space surveillance  conference in Hawaii, the Air Force Association’s annual Air-Space-Cyber conference in Maryland (just outside D.C.), Maryland Space Business Roundtable (MSBR) and Washington Space Business Roundtable (WSBR)  luncheons, and an Aerospace Corporation webinar on Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Satellites and Citizen Science.

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 (perhaps a rescheduled date for the HTV-8 launch that was scrubbed last week?).

Sunday-Tuesday, September 15-17

Monday, September 16

Monday-Wednesday, September 16-18

Tuesday, September 17

Tuesday-Friday, September 17-20

Wednesday, September 18

Thursday, September 19

Thursday-Friday, September 19-20

Saturday-Sunday, September 21-22

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.