Today’s Deep Space Extra

May 21st, 2021

In Today’s Deep Space Extra… President Biden’s choice for NASA deputy administrator, Pamela Melroy, appears before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee for a nomination hearing. Major components of the Artemis II SLS rocket core stage come together.


Human Space Exploration

Melroy wins strong support at hearing to be NASA deputy administrator (5/21): Yesterday, President Biden’s choice for NASA deputy administrator, former astronaut Pamela Melroy, appeared before the Senate Commerce Committee for a nomination hearing that also featured Rick Spinrad, nominee for NOAA Administrator, and Carlos Monje, nominee for Transportation Undersecretary for Policy. In her opening remarks, Melroy said NASA is ready to tackle some of our nation’s most pressing challenges: economic competitiveness, climate change, and maintaining American leadership in science and technology. When questioned about her support for an extension of the International Space Station (ISS) to 2030, Melroy responded she supports the extension. Regarding Russian officials’ suggestions to leave the ISS as soon as the mid-2020s, Melroy said that if confirmed, she looks forward to having a conversation with Roscosmos to learn what they really think because we need to harmonize timing for station future development and successors. Melroy was asked whether resiliency and redundancy in system operations is important, to which she responded it is important and that the Artemis program needs to be looked at as a systems engineering problem that requires backups. Nominee Carlos Monje was asked about FAA policies that prevent commercial spaceports from accessing matching funds available for other infrastructure projects, to which he responded that he would like to work with Congress on that. 

China’s push for ‘space superiority’ worries nominee for NASA deputy administrator (5/21): During her appearance Thursday before the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee prior to a full Senate vote on her nomination to serve as NASA’s deputy administrator, Melroy expressed support for efforts to keep the U.S. in a position to lead the future exploration of space, noting recent achievements by China to safely land a rover on the surface of Mars as well as the Moon. Melroy says she supports limitations on NASA’s ability to cooperate with China and that she supports the Wolf Amendment. In light of a recent uncontrolled reentry of a Chinese rocket, Melroy was asked about the need for the U.S. and other nations to have China behave responsibly in space. Melroy said the U.S. and its allies need to develop norms of behavior in space and call out China when they act irresponsibly.

SLS Rocket Core for Artemis II mission reaches major milestone (5/20): At NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, assembly of the core stage has begun for the Artemis II Space Launch System (SLS). The agency has joined together the core stage’s liquid oxygen and intertank, two of three major components. Artemis II is NASA’s Artemis program’s first crewed mission and the second integrated flight of SLS and the Orion spacecraft. The mission does not intend to land astronauts on the Moon.

Europe outlines Sat Nav plans for Moon missions (5/20): Under its Moonlight Program, the European Space Agency (ESA) plans to develop a lunar communications constellation. The proposed constellation of satellites intends to allow a growing number of planned missions to land accurately and then communicate with Earth and potential future permanent lunar base staffed by astronauts.


Space Science

NASA says there are probably organic salts on Mars
Yahoo (5/20): A NASA team has found indirect evidence that organic salts are likely present on Mars. These salts are the chemical remnants of organic compounds, such as those previously detected by NASA’s Curiosity rover. Organic compounds and salts on Mars could have formed by geologic processes or be remnants of ancient microbial life. Going forward, more intensive research into these salts and potentially hunting down the areas where they are concentrated could be prioritized.

Metals found in the atmospheres of comets in and beyond our solar system surprise scientists (5/20): 21 Borisov, an interstellar comet discovered in 2019, shares a feature common to solar system comets, evidence of the metal nickel. The findings, detected using the Very Large Telescope in Chile, are published in the journal Nature. Though the concentrations are small, their presence raises a question: where did they experience the heat necessary to generate their formation?

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