St. Louis Future Forum and STS-123 Landing

St. Louis Future Forum

There were several issues to deal with this week. Earlier this week, there were some issues with the Mars program. Today, Friday, March 28, was the first day back in the office from my road trip, so back-to-back meetings including one on workforce transition from Shuttle to Constellation (more on that next week). I will highlight some of the external events of the week, because that’s the extent of what I feel I can discuss.

Shana Dale at St. Louis Future Forum, March 25, 2008 (Credit: NASA)On Tuesday, March 25, I spoke at the St. Louis Future Forum which was held in the beautiful St. Louis Science Center. This was the third Future Forum held as part of NASA’s 50th year long anniversary celebration. As I have said in previous blogs, the intent of the Future Forum is to reach out to communities that may not be as knowledgeable about the space program as those of us that live it every day. 

If you read my speeches, you know I spend a great deal of time talking about the space economy and the tangible benefits we all receive from the space program. At the Future Forums, the makeup of the audience ranges from undergraduates to business owners, as well as the general public. It is a varied group and yet they are truly interested in learning more about what we do on a daily basis and are very surprised to learn how NASA impacts their lives.

Carl Walz and I did an informal press conference with Doug King, the Director of the St. Louis Science Center. Camera crews from the local stations, Fox TV2 and KSDK (NBC) were on hand to tape us. After that, Jon Grayson with radio station KMOX. And before we hit the airport, we sat with the editorial board of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Namely the reporters and editors asked similar questions such as how are we able to accomplish so much within such a constrained budget; what is planned for the next generation of human spaceflight, what are some of the challenges, and why did you come to St. Louis?

The timing of the St. Louis Future Forum was perfect. Numerous individuals came up to me to talk about their hometown hero, STS-123 Mission Specialist Robert Behnken. When I told them I was on my way to the Kennedy Space Center to watch the landing of Endeavour with him on board, they were thrilled. Robert is a native son of the St. Louis area and they are extremely proud of him.

STS-123 Landing

This was my first opportunity to view a landing as NASA’s Deputy Administrator. The STS-123 crew accomplished so much in the time they were in orbit and this mission is the longest to date. What an incredible accomplishment. STS-123 was another building mission to the International Space Station (ISS) where the crew delivered and attached the Kibo Module and Dextre. 

Shana Dale at Mission Control during STS-123 Landing, March 26, 2008 (Credit: NASA)Initially, I sat with Mike Griffin on-console in the Launch Control Center (LCC) and listened to the communications between the LCC, Mission Control Center, the Shuttle Training Aircraft and the crew of Endeavour as discussions were held on the weather. The crew was told to do a wave off of the first landing opportunity due to cloud cover in the area. After de-orbit burn, we went to the landing strip to wait. 

Several of us talked about this remarkable night because not only was Endeavour about to land, but we were able to view the Jules Verne Automated Transfer Vehicle and shortly thereafter, the ISS flying overhead within minutes of each other. The ISS becomes larger and easier to see with the naked eye as it grows with our components, as well as those of our international partners.

STS-123 Landing at Kennedy Space Center, March 26, 2008 (Credit: NASA)About two minutes before we were able to see the orbiter come into view, there were two sonic booms in quick succession and then Endeavour appeared to glide through the brightness of the xenon lights at the head of the runway. Then once again, she was back on terra firma. This was the 16th night landing at KSC, the 22nd night landing in the Space Shuttle program, and the 68th landing at KSC. Once again, it was an amazing achievement in our human spaceflight program. On March 11, we wished the Endeavour and her crew Godspeed and on March 26, we welcomed her home. 

Launch of STS-123

STS-123 launchI participated in a number of events surrounding the launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavor (STS-123), the 25th Space Shuttle assembly mission to the International Space Station (ISS). In a spectacular night launch that lit up the coast of Florida surrounding Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Space Shuttle Endeavor lifted off very early on Tuesday morning. I gave the remarks at the pre-launch briefing and they can be found at the NASA home page.

Prior to the launch, I visited the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa, Florida.  I have met some of our rehabilitating soldiers and veterans at previous launches and these young people, with their amazingly positive attitudes, have had a great impact on me.

Visit to Veterans’ Hospital

In the last year, KSC has opened their hearts and facilities to soldiers, Marines, and their family members, as well as the staff of the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa, Florida, by inviting them to be their special guests and view the Space Shuttle launches from the OSB II building at KSC.  On Monday, Mr. James (Jim) Hattaway, Associate Center Director for KSC; JuliAnna Potter, my Special Advisor; Tim Kopra, a flight engineer scheduled for the STS-127 mission in April 2009; and I took the opportunity to tour this hospital to meet with some of the soldiers and staff.

Jim Hattaway, Astronaut Timothy Kopra, and Shana Dale with a patient at the Veterans HospitalI asked Jim to share some of his thoughts after the tour on Monday. He was impressed by the quality of care provided to these men and women and we actually heard this sentiment echoed by numerous patients. He also noted that the members of the hospital staff care deeply about their patients and are also passionate about providing the appropriate medical and emotional support needed for these brave young men and women. Jim also indicated that although the men and women we visited were physically wounded, there was not a single complaint. Rather, it was a focus on rehabilitation, recovery, and continued service to country.

Jim said it made him proud to be an American and it actually made him focus his thoughts on the reality of the freedom we all enjoy, and, unfortunately, sometimes take for granted; however, this freedom is not free, but is paid for by the sacrifices of those who serve in our military. We can never adequately repay the young men and women or their families for their pain, suffering, and sacrifice, and as a nation, we owe them a great debt.  I heartily agree.

Astronaut Timothy Kopra with a patient at the Veterans HospitalFor the patients we visited, the highlight was getting to meet Tim Kopra. He had a wonderful touch with everyone he met and took pictures with most of the patients and staff. Everyone loves to meet an astronaut and I am very thankful that he could be there with us. Due to the pre-dawn liftoff of STS-123, these soldiers were unable to attend, but I look forward to seeing some of them in May for STS-124.

International Contributions to the Space Shuttle Launch

Several senior officials from the Governments of Japan and Canada attended the launch, including the President of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Dr. Keiji Tachikawa; the Canadian Minister of Industry, the Honorable Mr. Jim Prentice; and the Canadian Space Agency President, Mr. Guy Bujold.

This mission is carrying the Japanese Logistics Module, the first of three components that make up the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM), called Kibo, which means “Hope” in Japanese. It is also carrying the Canadian Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator, known as “Dextre.” The assembly of these two elements to the ISS, right on the heels of the European Space Agency’s Columbus module, which was launched to the ISS in February, is an exciting step toward the 2010 completion of what is becoming a truly “international” Space Station. Adding to the ISS partnership’s excitement, just two days earlier, the European Space Agency successfully launched the maiden voyage of their Automated Transfer Vehicle, called Jules Verne, to the ISS from their launch site in French Guiana. This unique cargo vehicle will carry both pressurized and unpressurized cargo to the ISS.

Kibo is Japan’s first laboratory in space. It was built by JAXA and when fully assembled, will significantly enhance the Space Station’s research capabilities. Participating on the crew for this mission is JAXA astronaut Takao Doi, who will be one of the first crew members to enter the logistics module in the next few days. The next JEM elements, the Pressurized Module and the Robotic Arm, are scheduled to launch on Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-124) on May 25, and the final element, the Exposed Facility, is scheduled to launch on STS-127 in April 2009.  

The Canadian Space Agency’s Dextre robotic system is a two-armed manipulator designed to supplement another key robotic contribution by Canada to the ISS, Canadarm2, by performing fine maintenance tasks that normally would be accomplished by spacewalking astronauts.

Logistics module for the Japanese Kibo laboratory in Space Shuttle Endeavours payload bay, vertical stabilizer and orbital maneuvering system (OMS) pods   Space Shuttle Endeavour approaches the International Space Station during STS-123 rendezvous and docking operations
Backdropped by Earth’s horizon and the blackness of space, the logistics module for the Japanese Kibo laboratory in Space Shuttle Endeavour’s payload bay, vertical stabilizer and orbital maneuvering system (OMS) pods are featured in this image photographed by a STS-123 crewmember. (Photo credit: NASA)   Space Shuttle Endeavour approaches the International Space Station during STS-123 rendezvous and docking operations. Docking occurred at 10:49 p.m. (CDT) on March 12, 2008. The Canadian-built Dextre robotic system and the logistics module for the Japanese Kibo laboratory are visible in Endeavour’s cargo bay. (Photo credit: NASA)
Space Shuttle Endeavours payload bay is ready for closure of the doors for launch   Another view of space shuttle Endeavours payload bay as it is readied for closure of the doors for launch
On NASA Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Pad 39A, space shuttle Endeavour’s payload bay is ready for closure of the doors for launch. Seen at the bottom is the first section of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Kibo laboratory, the Experiment Logistics Module Pressurized Section, or ELM-PS. At the top is the orbiter docking system. Endeavour is targeted to launch March 11 at 2:28 a.m. EDT on the 16-day STS-123 mission to the International Space Station. Endeavour and its crew will deliver the ELM-PS and the Canadian Space Agency’s two-armed robotic system, Dextre. (Photo credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis)   Another view of space shuttle Endeavour’s payload bay as it is readied for closure of the doors for launch on NASA Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Pad 39A. (Photo credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis)
STS-123 cargo bay holding logistics module for Japanese Kibo laboratory
During their first full day in space, STS-123 crewmembers aboard the Earth-orbiting Space Shuttle Endeavour recorded and downlinked pictures of its cargo bay where the logistics module for the Japanese Kibo laboratory awaits being added to the growing International Space Station. (Photo credit: NASA)

Hearing Summaries and Budget Resolution Status

FY 2009 Budget Update

After the rollout of the President’s FY 2009 budget request for NASA on February 4, 2008, the Congressional budget process began and is now in full swing, with hearings in several of our oversight committees and subcommittees complete, and the House and Senate Budget Committees completing action on the budget resolution.

Hearings after budget release typically are held by House and Senate Authorization (policy) committees and House and Senate appropriations (funding) Committees.

On February 13, 2008, the House Science and Technology Committee (authorization) held a hearing regarding NASA’s FY 2009 budget request. Mike Griffin testified on behalf of the agency. Members expressed bipartisan support for NASA’s exploration goals, but also expressed concern that a number of programs appeared to be either unfunded or underfunded, including: Constellation systems, Shuttle transition and retirement, future needs for the Deep Space Network, Space Station logistics and utilization post-2011, and aeronautics research. Several Members praised the agency’s decision to propose new science missions, but expressed concern that funding for the new missions was simply being moved within science from other project lines.

Several Members expressed concern with the gap between retirement of the Shuttle and the Initial Operational Capability (IOC) of Orion in 2015, and questioned whether NASA could extend the Shuttle program beyond 2010 and/or accelerate Orion/Ares development, and failing these options, whether the agency would be reliant on purchasing Russian services. (Even with acceleration of Orion/Ares, IOC would be in 2013. Given Shuttle retirement in 2010, crew access to ISS is needed between then and Orion/Ares.)

Other areas of Congressional interest included: China’s emerging prowess in the space arena; options for flying the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) to Station; plans for further data release from the National Aviation Operational Monitoring Service project; options for flying the Total Solar Irradiance Suite; increased support for the Near-Earth Object project and the Arecibo radio telescope; and, gaining a better understanding of heat shield development problems experienced by the Mars Science Laboratory.

On February 27, 2008, the Senate Subcommittee on Space, Aeronautics and Related Sciences (authorization) held a hearing regarding NASA’s FY 2009 budget request. Mike Griffin testified on behalf of the agency. Chairman Bill Nelson (D-FL) dispensed with opening statements, but before questions began, commended Mike on his public service, adding that it was a “difficult job.” The Chairman also recognized the crew of STS-120 at the beginning of the hearing, before their departure for meetings with other Members of Congress. Chairman Nelson and Ranking Member David Vitter (R-LA) participated for the entire hearing; Full Committee Vice-Chairman Ted Stevens (R-AK) departed after a few questions.

Member questions covered the breadth of NASA activities, but primarily focused on: status of Shuttle transition and potential workforce impacts at the Centers, especially Kennedy Space Center and Michoud Assembly Facility; options for minimizing the gap between Shuttle retirement and Initial Operational Capability (IOC) for Orion and Ares; plans for addressing dependence on Russia for transportation to the Space Station post-2011, and after the Iran North Korea Syria Nonproliferation Act exemption expires; options for accelerating Option D (human transport capability) under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services agreements; and scenarios for altering the Shuttle manifest to accommodate flying AMS to the Space Station.

On March 5 and 6, the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (appropriations) held hearings regarding NASA’s FY 2009 budget request. Mike Griffin testified on behalf of the agency, accompanied by the Associate Administrators for Exploration Systems, Space Operations, Science, and Aeronautics Research (Rick Gilbrech, Bill Gerstenmaier, Alan Stern, and Jaiwon Shin). Opening statements from Subcommittee Members, as well as their lines of questioning, focused heavily on the adequacy of NASA’s overall budget given the totality of planned activities, status of missions within the Science Mission Directorate and plans to address the priorities outlined in the Decadal Surveys.

Subcommittee Members were also interested in issues that had been subject to Government Accountability Office (GAO) review, such as, Orion/Ares program status, Shuttle transition and the Commercial Orbital Transportation System (COTS). Discussion also revolved around NASA’s fiscal shortfall due to the FY 2007 Continuing Resolution (CR, P.L. 110-5), and the significant impact this shortfall has had on the schedule for Orion/Ares IOC.

On March 5, 2008, the House and Senate Budget Committees met separately to begin markup of their respective Budget Resolutions for FY 2009. In the early hours of March 6, the House Budget Committee reported out its budget resolution, as amended, with 22 yeas and 16 nays. The House Budget Committee-passed resolution does not contain specific funding assumptions for NASA. Also on March 6, the Senate Budget Committee reported out its budget resolution, as amended, with 12 yeas and 10 nays. The Senate Budget Committee Chairman’s Mark reflects the following language regarding NASA:

“The Chairman’s Mark funds NASA at $18.7B, $1.0B above the President’s 2009 request. This level of funding reflects the ongoing need to reimburse NASA for the catastrophic loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia as well as the costs of investigating the Columbia tragedy. For the Agency, this represents an increase of $1.2B, or 6.8 percent above the 2008 level adjusted for inflation.”

The Chairman’s Mark includes additional language highlighting the importance of “our nation’s space program,” and the “strategic importance” of uninterrupted access to space and the need to minimize “the five-year gap” in U.S. human spaceflight. According to Committee staff, both the House and Senate are expected to begin Floor consideration of their respective budget resolutions the week of March 10. Please note the Budget Resolution is not yet enacted, and the funding recommendations within the resolution are not binding on the Appropriations Committees.

On April 3, 2008, Administrator Griffin is scheduled to testify before the Senate Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (appropriations).

So, the process is off to a fast start, and we at Headquarters will keep a close eye on developments on Capitol Hill and keep you informed along the way.

Thanks to Bill Bruner and his staff in the Office of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs, for helping me get this information together.