Late August is a quiet period in space policy, with Congress in recess and so many others on vacation, but there are a few items of interest:
Discover magazine published earlier this month an “exit interview” with NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver, who announced plans on August 6 to leave NASA in a month. (The interview was actually conducted prior to that announcement, so it doesn’t cover her plans for leaving.) The interview focuses on NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) plans and the pushback those plans have received from Congress. “I think there are just, right now, some things that because of the partisan nature of this Congress we are not going to be able to convince them,” she said, echoing earlier comments on the issue.
Garver also said that the redirection mission was adopted because of concerns about original plans to send astronauts to a near Earth object. “The long-pull intent was for astronauts to go to an asteroid for some hundreds-of-days mission, but the medical community is not prepared to allow astronauts to do that yet,” she said. In fact, the international exploration roadmap released last week makes virtually no mention of human missions to NEOs beyond NASA’s asteroid redirect mission.
That roadmap, curiously, has attracted a lot of media attention not in the US but instead in Canada. “Canada could be sending its first astronaut to the moon under an ambitious long-term plan being developed by a group of space agencies around the world,” reported the Canadian Press in an article about the report. The Canadian Space Agency is one of the members of the International Space Exploration Coordination Group, which prepared the report, but it did not call out specific roles for the CSA or other agencies in that document. CSA officials said they envision having a Canadian astronaut on the lunar missions envisions for the late 2020s in the report.
That idea has the endorsement of the Toronto Star in an editorial today, saying it would be “a shame if Canada failed to rise to the challenge posed by humanity’s next great leap beyond the surly bonds of Earth.” There’s no mention, though, of the near-term challenges faced by CSA in the form of constrained budgets and an uncertain long-term direction.
Meanwhile, Russian officials are reportedly contemplating an export ban on the RD-180 engine used by the Atlas V rocket. Russia Today, citing a report in Izvestia, said Russia’s Security Council was considering blocking the export of the engines, for reasons not explicitly clear in the article but possibly linked to the Atlas V’s use in launching military payloads. Any ban would not take effect until 2015, according to the report, but would still leave United Launch Alliance with few options to deal with the ban. A Russian space policy expert called the proposed ban “stupid” since it would deprive engine manufacturer NPO Energomash of its main business. Stupidity, though, is not necessarily a primarily criterion in policy decisions.