As previously noted here, retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) sees NASA in a “good position” to both make use of the International Space Station and explore beyond Earth orbit, a position she reiterates in an op-ed in the Houston Chronicle on Sunday. “America should have two goals,” she writes. “First, to ensure manned access to the International Space Station,” to make use of the station, citing specifically the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) on the ISS. “Second, to achieve manned space exploration beyond low-Earth orbit, places where no human has ever been.” “NASA is an investment, not an expenditure,” she argues, whose funding should be supported.
Earlier this month NASA announced it was canceling a small astronomy mission, the Gravity and Extreme Magnetism Small Explorer (GEMS), citing cost overruns of 20-30 percent on a mission that had been cost-capped at $119 million. That decision especially hurt Orbital Sciences Corporation, which was contracted to both build GEMS and launch it on its Pegasus XL rocket. Space News now reports that Orbital is lobbying Congress to restore the mission, claiming NASA’s cancellation decision was based on “an erroneous and incomplete set of cost, schedule and technical data”. It also warns the cancellation of GEMS may result in the layoffs of up to 150 people currently working on the satellite, and even retirement of the little-used Pegasus XL, which launched last week for the first time since October 2008 with only one other mission on its manifest.
On Monday the FAA and NASA announced a memorandum of understanding about how the two agencies will cooperate on regulation and oversight of commercial cargo and crew missions. The contents of the MOU were not that surprising, and most of the news came from the comments that NASA administrator Charles Bolden made about the status of the commercial crew program and when awards for the its next phase will be made. Nonetheless, the MOU got an endorsement from an unexpected source. Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH) told Dayton TV station WDTN that the agreement could lead to local jobs. How? “We know that with the Air Force they have the experience, expertise on unmanned, operating unmanned vehicles,” he told the TV station. “NASA of course has the issue of space, and FAA has the ability working with the commercial sector. As we get all of them cooperating and working together we know that it could mean jobs back here at home.” From his comments, and a speech he made last month, he may have been confusing the FAA/NASA MOU on commercial spaceflight with efforts to get FAA, NASA, and the Air Force to cooperate on UAVs.