Report from Washington, D.C.
"Happy New Year!" from Washington, D.C., where 2007 concluded in a flurry of Space Foundation activity, including a Space Power Caucus Breakfast, Space Foundation Correspondents Group, and the release of a daily, Web-based version of the Space Foundation Index. The Space Foundation, with the National Defense Industry Association, hosted the year's final Congressional Space Power Caucus breakfast. Lt. Gen. Michael A. Hamel, USAF, commander, Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) was the featured speaker, addressing SMC's 2007 accomplishments and looking forward to goals and objectives for 2008.
Additionally, the December Space Foundation Correspondents Group featured guests Richard Garriott and Eric Anderson. Garriott is a well-known video game designer and son of former astronaut Owen Garriott, and is scheduled to be the next private citizen to travel to the International Space Station (ISS). Anderson is president and chief executive officer of Space Adventures, the space tourism company that will send Garriott to the ISS.
On the legislative front, in late December, Congress passed, and the president signed into law, an omnibus appropriations bill which included the 11 remaining individual appropriations bills for fiscal year (FY) 2008. The bill funds NASA at the President's top line request of $17.3 billion. This amount includes increases to the science and aeronautics accounts and decreases for exploration and space operations while fully funding the Orion and Ares projects. The legislation also contains a provision prohibiting human exploration of Mars.
Specific policy direction requires NASA to prepare and update a detailed workforce transition strategy for the shift from the space shuttle to the next generation vehicle. Further, selection of a new Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) provider is suspended pending resolution of outstanding challenges to the first COTS agreement, effectively putting the re-competition of the second funded COTS agreement on hold.
The omnibus measure also funds NOAA, though at less than the President's request, and less than either the House or Senate bills. In addition, the legislation includes language expressing concern and frustration with NOAA's satellite programs and directs quarterly updates on these programs. A provision, similar to Nunn-McCurdy notification procedure required for the Department of Defense, is also included in the bill as part of sustained congressional oversight of NOAA's satellite programs.
Although the FY 2008 Defense Authorization bill passed both the House and the Senate in mid-December, on December 28, 2007, the President announced he would veto the bill over provisions that would allow lawsuits against Iraq in U.S. courts for acts committed under Saddam Hussein's regime. Congress will now have to pass a new bill when it reconvenes in January. In addition, the FY 2008 Intelligence Authorization conference bill cleared the House in mid-December, but the measure remains to be taken up in the Senate and received an immediate veto threat from the White House.
As the congressional session closed out, several members introduced space-related bills. Rep. Dave Weldon (R-FL) proposed the "Spacefaring Priorities for America's Continued Exploration Act'' (the SPACE Act). This bill would continue two space shuttle missions a year past 2010 until Orion is operational, removing the gap and reliance on Russia for access to the ISS. Additionally, Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA) introduced legislation to establish a "NASA Innovation Fund." This fund would be used as prize money for programs such as the Centennial Challenges. Contributions to the fund would come partially from partnerships with academia, the nonprofit sector, and the private sector, focused on promoting science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education.
Looking forward, 2008 promises to be an eventful year, both for the Space Foundation and in the legislative and regulatory arenas. Continued involvement with the Space Power Caucus, new Space Foundation Correspondents Group events, and the release of The Space Report 2008, will be among the highlights.