A roundup of miscellaneous items on a slow space policy news week:
As has been widely reported, President Obama will visit the Kennedy Space Center next Friday to witness the scheduled launch of space shuttle Endeavour on STS-134. His appearance will only heighten the media frenzy surrounding the launch, which has less to do with the fact that it is the penultimate shuttle mission than that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, husband of STS-134 commander Mark Kelly and recovering from injuries sustained in a Tucson shooting in January, is planning to attend. However, it will be a very brief visit: he has a White House event (welcoming Auburn University’s national championship football team) at 10 am, which means he would not get to KSC until early afternoon at the earliest. In addition, he’s speaking at graduation ceremonies at Miami Dade College Friday at 5 pm in downtown Miami, which suggests he’ll leave immediately after the 3:47 pm launch (and probably still be late.)
President Obama also had something to say earlier this week about the placement of the space shuttles. A reporter for Dallas TV station WFAA asked the president in an interview earlier this week if politics played a role in not awarding Houston a space shuttle orbiter when the fleet is retired later this year, passing over the city in favor of sites in New York, Los Angeles, outside Washington, and at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. “That’s wrong,” the president said. “We had nothing to do with it. The White House has had nothing to do with it. There’s a whole commission, a whole process, and that’s how the decision was made.” (The exchange takes place about four minutes into the video linked to above.) In testimony last week before a Senate committee, NASA administrator Charles Bolden said that the decision was “free of any political involvement,” although he also said he had briefed people “close to the president” on the issue.
The president’s statement has hardly assuaged critics of the decision. “Sadly, it seems partisan politics permeates this announcement,” Reps. Pete Olson and Ted Poe (R-TX) said in an CNN op-ed. Saying they are “demanding answers”, they added, “If, as we suspect, the measures were purely political, we will do everything in our power to make this right.” The two are among the 12 co-sponsors of HR 1536, which would override NASA’s selection and award Endeavour to Houston (giving Enterprise to LA and leaving New York empty-handed). They have not co-sponsored a competing bill, HR 1590, introduced by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), that would require the Smithsonian to loan Discovery to Houston for 15 years.
The curious headline of the day comes from National Journal: “Spending Bill Funds NASA Mission to the Moon”. The article reports on funding in the final FY11 continuing resolution that funds work on the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) and Space Launch System (SLS), which combined will get no less than $3 billion in 2011. “The money will fund NASA’s Constellation Program,” the article claims, later referring to “the reauthorization of the Constellation Program” in the NASA authorization act last year. Strictly speaking, that’s not accurate: while MPCV is, to at least first order, a continuation of Orion, SLS is different from Ares, bigger in its initial iteration than Ares 1 but smaller than Ares 5. And a return to the Moon is not an overt goal of the administration’s exploration plan announced a year ago, which calls for instead a mission to a near Earth asteroid by 2025 and Mars orbit by the mid 2030s. Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL) said earlier this month he wants Congress to pass legislation that would “resume the goal” of a human return to the Moon.
Update 12:45 pm: the text of HR 1641, the bill introduced by Posey to make a lunar return NASA’s human spaceflight goal, is now available. (It was introduced last Friday but not posted on Thomas until some time this morning.) The “Reasserting American Leadership in Space Act” (or “REAL Space Act”) is primarily a set of findings about space exploration, with the key item at the end: “the National Aeronautics and Space Administration shall plan to return to the Moon by 2022 and develop a sustained human presence on the Moon, in order to promote exploration, commerce, science, and United States preeminence in space as a stepping stone for the future exploration of Mars and other destinations.” According to one report, Posey drafted the bill “in consultation with Mike Griffin”, the former NASA administrator.