March 8 News Items

Florida Lawmaker Gets Tough on NASA Spending (Source: Houston Chronicle)
If NASA’s chief had hoped for the traditional kid-glove treatment by a House oversight panel, he probably was disappointed as soon as the new representative from Florida started tossing hard questions at him. Rep. Alan Grayson, a former defense lawyer for government contractors, broke ranks with his fellow committee members who were posing Dutch Uncle-style questions in the hearing room. Instead, Grayson debuted a watchdog approach and dug deeply into cost overruns unearthed recently by government accountants.

Two of his questions to acting administrator Christopher Scolese: What percentage of NASA’s $17.6 billion budget relies upon fixed-price contracts? What about using contracts where NASA would have the option to pay or not pay for cost overruns? Both times, the NASA chief did not have the answers and promised to provide them after the hearing. Grayson said his no-nonsense style may or may not yield results. “We lit a match, and we’ll see what happens.”

Grayson said his adversarial approach to oversight stems from a motive to save the space agency from wasteful spending and provide more money for exploration. “The question is how to get the most bang for the buck,” Grayson said in an interview. “And the answer is to run procurements efficiently and cost consciously.” Scott Pace, a former NASA official, said Grayson’s maiden performance in the committee room quickly becomes the talk of NASA headquarters. Pace said Grayson’s desire for NASA to use more fixed-price contracts was shared by many at NASA headquarters. But, he said, “a fixed-price contract just doesn’t make sense in an R&D environment where you’re building something that’s never been built before.” (3/8)

North Korea Warns Against Intercepting Rocket (Source:
North Korea warned Monday that it would retaliate if anyone tried to shoot down a rocket it plans to launch, amid concerns that the communist state is preparing to test a long-range missile. The North, which insists that the launch is to send up a satellite as part of a peaceful space program, has come under growing international pressure to abandon the launch, as well as its nuclear program.

"We will retaliate any act of intercepting our satellite for peaceful purposes with prompt counter strikes by the most powerful military means," a spokesman for the General Staff of the Korean People's Army warned. "Shooting our satellite for peaceful purposes will precisely mean a war," the spokesman said, in a statement carried by the Korean Central News Agency. The retaliation, it added, would be aimed "not only against all the interceptor means involved but against the strongholds of the US and Japanese aggressors and the South Korean puppets who hatched plots to intercept it." (3/8)

Russian FM Lavrov Against Arms Race in Space, Wants Efforts United (Source: RIA Novosti)
Russia's foreign minister said Saturday that an arms race in outer space is inadmissible and called on other world powers to unite efforts in countering missile threats. "Prevention of an arms race in space will contribute to ensuring the predictability of the strategic situation and preserving the orbital property," Sergei Lavrov told a disarmament conference in Geneva, adding that all states using space objects for civilian purposes should be interested in it.

Lavrov said that in February last year Russia and China submitted a draft international treaty on prevention of outer space weaponization. "We plan, jointly with China, to submit to your consideration soon a document generalizing the results of discussions that have taken place at the conference and containing reaction to comments on the draft treaty. We hope the document will become a good help for future talks," the Russian minister said. (3/8)

Macao Donates 14 Million Yuan to Mainland Space Program (Source: Xinhua)
Macao people donated 14.46 million yuan ($2.1 million) to the China Space Foundation (CSF) at a ceremony in Beijing. The donation came from 49 Macao businessmen and the non-governmental Macao Foundation. Of the fund, 2.5 million yuan would go to Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center and 1.5 million to Xichang Satellite Launch Center. A total of 1.85 million yuan was awarded to 14 astronauts, including the six who took part in the country's three manned space missions. (3/8)

Editorial: Space Program Needs a New Map (Source: St. Petersburg Times)
Advocates for manned space exploration have wondered since November whether President Obama would follow through on the commitments he made as a candidate to NASA and its Florida workforce. They had to be relieved by the president's first budget. Obama committed to spend billions more, despite the worsening financial crisis, on both manned and unmanned space exploration. He stuck — at least for now — with the plan by his predecessor to return an American to the moon. The only questions left are the big ones: What are the benefits behind another ambitious run in space and how will America afford it?

The Obama administration has come no closer to explaining a rationale for the moon mission than the Bush administration did. It also has not laid out how the United States would keep the manned space program alive in the five years between when it retires the shuttle in 2010 and starts flying Constellation craft in 2015. Policymakers have spent too much time debating whether to fly the shuttle another year and too little time focusing on keeping NASA's mission relevant and its skilled workforce intact. Retiring the shuttle will trigger a brain drain at Cape Canaveral, among other places. Aerospace leaders are warning state lawmakers that at least 3,500 jobs — many of them highly skilled and paid — could be lost at KSC as the shuttle program closes.

The federal government needs to work with heavy aerospace states like Florida, Texas and California on ways to retain jobs, technical development, investment and research opportunities. NASA can win the support it needs to build on its historic milestones. But the administration first needs to explain where discovery, research and fascination fall as priorities. (3/8)

New Mexico to be Site of Orion Abort Flight Tests (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
America's space program is coming back to where it got its start, White Sands Missile Range. Next to Launch Complex 33, where the nation's first V-2 rocket was launched, NASA has finished construction of a 92-acre complex that will serve as the site for abort flight tests of its newest spacecraft, the Orion crew exploration vehicle. NASA officials are hopeful that tests can begin later this year, maybe as soon as late August. (3/8)'

Former Florida Teacher Aboard Wednesday Night Shuttle Launch (Source: AP)
Two science teachers who have spent the past five years under NASA's tutelage are about to graduate with high-flying honors. The space shuttle flight Wednesday night of Joseph Acaba and Richard Arnold II will mark the first time two one-time teachers have rocketed into space together. And during the two-week construction mission to the international space station, both will attempt multiple spacewalks — the most dangerous job in orbit. For Jane Ashman, principal at Central Florida's Dunnellon Middle School, where Acaba taught math and science for four years, the teachers' presence on the flight sends a powerful message to students. "You can achieve your dream, whatever it is," Ashman said. "You can be anything you want."

In the mid-1980s, Teacher-Astronauts Christa McAuliffe and Barbara Morgan — who has returned to education and is no longer with NASA — had minimal astronaut training. The two professions are more alike than one might think, according to Acaba. "Teachers have to think on their feet. They have to adjust all the time, and I think that's part of what we do" as astronauts, Acaba said. "We train for specific things, but you never really know what's going to happen." (3/8)

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