Not many people really expected the remaining shuttle flights to be completed by the end of FY2010, a short five months away, but the extension into FY2011 reportedly is certain now that a scientific instrument due to be launched to the International Space Station (ISS) will not be ready on time. The New York Times reported yesterday that the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) will undergo a change-out of its magnet before launch and will not reach Kennedy Space Center at least until August. It was due for launch in July. NASA is still deciding when the launch will take place.
One week after President Obama’s speech at Kennedy Space Center (KSC), it remains difficult to see who in Congress will take the lead in getting his new plan for the country’s human spaceflight program enacted into law. On the surface, at least, little has changed.
Senator Barbara Mikulski, chair of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA, told a standing room only hearing this morning that “My position on this budget [for human spaceflight] is very simple. I need to know more, Congress needs to know more, taxpayers need to know more and astronauts need to know more.”
She continued that “I want to know if this is a program that the President, Congress and the American people can support and if this is a program that will be sustainable from one administration to the next. We cannot reinvent NASA every four years. … We are here to get the facts. It’s not about finger pointing — it’s about pin pointing.” She specifically cites the Constellation program as one topic needing clarification: “Is the President talking about cancelling Constellation or restructuring Constellation?” That’s a key issue in her view. She reiterated her priorities and principles as spelled out in a letter to Senator Bill Nelson weeks ago.
She also said that Congress must focus on other aspects of NASA, such as earth science and space science. “But it’s not all doom and gloom. We have to note successes. The goals of NASA’s space science are amazing.”
The hearing is ongoing. Check back later for more news.
The Senate Budget Committee today recommended increasing the amount of funds available to NASA for FY2011 to $19.7 billion, $1 billion more than the agency’s FY2010 appropriations or $726 million above the President’s request for FY2011. Reading the summary of the committee’s intent and listening to a colloquy between the committee’s chairman, Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND), and Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), suggests that the motivation is to support terrestrial military requirements at least as much as space program goals, however.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates continued to press his case for reform of the U.S. export control system in a Tuesday speech to Business Executives for National Security.
The Air Force’s experimental X-37B spaceplane is on the pad at Cape Canaveral, FL ready for launch tomorrow evening on an Atlas 5, according to Spaceflightnow.com. Some call it a spaceplane, some call it a mini-shuttle, and its classified mission adds an air of suspense and mystery.