NASA Receives Significant Budget Boost for Fiscal Year 2016

NASA has just received a significant boost in the agency’s current budget after both chambers of Congress passed the $1.1 Trillion 2016 omnibus spending bill this morning, Friday, Dec. 18, which funds the US government through the remainder of Fiscal Year 2016.

As part of the omnibus bill, NASA’s approved budget amounts to nearly $19.3 Billion – an outstandingly magnificent result and a remarkable turnaround to some long awaited good news from the decidedly negative outlook earlier this year. Continue reading “NASA Receives Significant Budget Boost for Fiscal Year 2016”

President Obama Hails NASA Curiosity rover landing on Mars

Image Caption: Landing ellipse for Curiosity rover inside Gale Crater at the foot of Mount Sharp on Mars and will attempt to climb the mountain later in the mission. Credit: NASA

US President Barack Obama hailed the spectacular landing success of NASA’s Curiosity rover on Aug. 6 inside Gale Crater and eagerly awaits the discoveries to come. More accolades for Curiosity and the rover team are pouring in from all across the globe.

The White House issued the following statement:

Statement by the President on Curiosity Landing on Mars

“Tonight, on the planet Mars, the United States of America made history.

The successful landing of Curiosity – the most sophisticated roving laboratory ever to land on another planet – marks an unprecedented feat of technology that will stand as a point of national pride far into the future. It proves that even the longest of odds are no match for our unique blend of ingenuity and determination.

Tonight’s success, delivered by NASA, parallels our major steps forward towards a vision for a new partnership with American companies to send American astronauts into space on American spacecraft. That partnership will save taxpayer dollars while allowing NASA to do what it has always done best – push the very boundaries of human knowledge. And tonight’s success reminds us that our preeminence – not just in space, but here on Earth – depends on continuing to invest wisely in the innovation, technology, and basic research that has always made our economy the envy of the world.

I congratulate and thank all the men and women of NASA who made this remarkable accomplishment a reality – and I eagerly await what Curiosity has yet to discover.”

The 1 ton Mini Cooper sized robot geologist and roving chemistry lab is seeking the signs of life on Mars and is loaded with 165 pounds of the most sophisticated science instruments ever delivered to the surface of the Red Planet.

During a two-year prime mission, Curiosity the rover will investigate whether the region has ever offered conditions favorable for microbial life, and search for organic molecules – the chemical ingredients for life.

Ken Kremer

Experts React to Obama Slash to NASA’s Mars and Planetary Science Exploration

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Earth’s next Mars Rover – NOT Made in USA

Just days after President Obama met with brilliant High School students at the 2012 White House Science Fair to celebrate their winning achievements and encourage America’s Youth to study science and take up careers in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) technical fields, the Obama Administration has decided on deep budgets cuts slashing away the very NASA science programs that would inspire those same students to shoot for the Stars and Beyond and answer the question – Are We Alone ?

Last year, the Obama Administration killed Project Constellation, NASA’s Human Spaceflight program to return American astronauts to the Moon. This year, the President has killed NASA’s ExoMars Robotic Spaceflight program aimed at dispatching two ambitious missions to Mars in 2016 and 2018 to search for signs of life.

Both ExoMars probes involved a joint new collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA) carefully crafted to share costs in hard times and get the most bang for the buck – outlined in my earlier Universe Today story, here.

Expert Scientists and Policy makers have been voicing their opinions.

President Obama meets America’s brightest Young Rocket Scientists
President Barack Obama hosted the winning science fair students from a range of nationwide competitions at the 2nd White House Science Fair on February 7, 2012. The ExoMars missions were eliminated from the NASA budget announced on Feb. 13, 2012.

All of NASA’s “Flagship” Planetary Science missions have now been cancelled in the 2013 Fiscal Year Budget proposed on Feb. 13, and others missions have also been curtailed due to the severe economy.

“There is no room in the current budget proposal from the President for new Flagship missions anywhere,” said John Grunsfeld, NASA’s Associate Administrator for Science at a NASA budget briefing for the media on Feb. 13.

ESA is now looking to partner with Russia as all American participation in ExoMars is erased due to NASA’ s forced pull out.

On Feb. 13, NASA’s Fiscal 2013 Budget was announced and the Obama Administration carved away nearly half the Mars mission budget. Altogether, funding for NASA’s Mars and Planetary missions in the Fiscal 2013 budget would be sliced by $300 million – from $1.5 Billion this year to $1.2 Billion in 2013. NASA was forced to gut the Mars program to pay for the cost overruns of the James Webb Space Telescope.

Mars rover scientist Prof. Jim Bell of Arizona State University and President of The Planetary Society (TPS) told Universe Today that “no one expects increases”, but cuts of this magnitude are “cause for concern”.

NASA’s robotic missions to Mars and other solar system bodies have been highly successful, resulted in fundamental scientific breakthroughs and are wildly popular with students and the general public.

“With these large proposed cuts to the NASA Mars exploration program, there will be a lot of cause for concern,” said Bell.

“The Mars program has been one of NASA’s crown jewels over the past 15 years, both in terms of science return on investment, and in terms of public excitement and engagement in NASA’s mission. It would also represent an unfortunate retreat from the kind of international collaboration in space exploration that organizations like The Planetary Society so strongly support.”

NASA Budget Cuts in Fiscal Year 2013 will force NASA to kill participation in the joint ESA/NASA collaboration to send two Astrobiology related missions to orbit and land rovers on Mars in 2016 and 2018- designed to search for evidence of Life. Credit: ESA - Annotation: Ken Kremer

Bell and other scientists feel that any cuts should be balanced among NASA programs, not aimed only at one specific area.

“Certainly no one expects increasing budgets in these austere times, and it is not useful or appropriate to get into a battle of “my science is better than your science” among the different NASA Divisions and Programs.” Bell told me.

“However, it would be unfortunate if the burden of funding cuts were to befall one of NASA’s most successful and popular programs in a disproportionate way compared to other programs. As Ben Franklin said, “We should all hang together, or surely we will all hang separately.”

Bell added that science minded organizations should work with Congress to influence the debate over the coming months.

“Of course, this would only be an initial proposal for the FY13 and beyond budget. Over the winter, spring, and summer many professional and public organizations, like TPS, will be working with Congress to advocate a balanced program of solar system exploration that focuses on the most important science goals as identified in the recent NRC Planetary Decadal Survey, as well as the most exciting and publicly compelling missions that are supported by the public–who ultimately are the ones paying for these missions.”

“Let’s hope that we can all find a productive and pragmatic way to continue to explore Mars, the outer solar system, and our Universe beyond,” Bell concluded.

“The impact of the cuts … will be to immediately terminate the Mars deal with the Europeans,” said Scott Hubbard, of Stanford University and a former NASA planetary scientist who revived the agency’s Mars exploration program after failures in 1999, to the Washington Post. “It’s a scientific tragedy and a national embarrassment.”

“I encourage whoever made this decision to ask around; everyone on Earth wants to know if there is life on other worlds,” Bill Nye, CEO of The Planetary Society, said in a statement. “When you cut NASA’s budget in this way, you’re losing sight of why we explore space in the first place.”

“There is no other country or agency that can do what NASA does—fly extraordinary flagship missions in deep space and land spacecraft on Mars.” Bill Nye said. “If this budget is allowed to stand, the United States will walk away from decades of greatness in space science and exploration. But it will lose more than that. The U.S. will lose expertise, capability, and talent. The nation will lose the ability to compete in one of the few areas in which it is still the undisputed number one.”

Ed Weiler is NASA’s recently retired science mission chief (now replaced by Grunsfeld) and negotiated the ExoMars program with ESA. Weiler actually quit NASA specifically in opposition to the Mars Program cuts ordered by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and had these comments for CBS News;

“To me, it’s bizarro world,” Weiler said an interview with CBS News. “Why would you do this? The President of the United States, President Obama, declared Mars to be the ultimate destination for human exploration. Obviously, before you send humans to the vicinity of Mars or even to land on Mars, you want to know as much about the planet as you possibly can. … You need a sample return mission. The president also established a space policy a few years ago which had the concept of encouraging all agencies to have more and more foreign collaboration, to share the costs and get more for the same bucks.”

“Two years ago, because of budget cuts in the Mars program, I had to appeal to Europe to merge our programs. … That process took two long years of very delicate negotiations. We thought we were following the president’s space policy exactly. Congressional reaction was very positive about our activities. You put those factors in place and you have to ask, why single out Mars? I don’t have an answer.”

Space Analysts and Political leaders also weighed in:

“The president’s budget is just a proposal,” said Howard McCurdy, a space-policy specialist at American University in Washington to the Christian Science Monitor.

The cuts “reflect the new reality” in which the economy, budget deficits, and the federal debt have elbowed their way to the top of Washington’s agenda, McCurdy adds.

“You don’t cut spending for critical scientific research endeavors that have immeasurable benefit to the nation and inspire the human spirit of exploration we all have,” said Rep. John Culberson (R-Tex.). Texas is home to NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), who represents the district that’s home to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), released this statement following his meeting with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden to discuss the agency’s 2013 budget proposal:

“Today I met with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden to express my dismay over widespread reports that NASA’s latest budget proposes to dramatically reduce the planetary science program, and with it, ground breaking missions to Mars and outer planetary bodies like Jupiter’s icy moon Europa, and to inform him of my vehement opposition to such a move.”

“America’s unique expertise in designing and flying deep-space missions is a priceless national asset and the Mars program, one of our nation’s scientific crown jewels, has been a spectacular success that has pushed the boundaries of human understanding and technological innovation, while also boosting American prestige worldwide and driving our children to pursue science and engineering degrees in college.

“As I told the Administrator during our meeting, I oppose these ill-considered cuts and I will do everything in my power to restore the Mars budget and to ensure American leadership in space exploration.”

In an interview with the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Schiff said, “What they’re proposing will be absolutely devastating to planetary science and the Mars program. I’m going to be fighting them tooth and nail. Unfortunately if this is the direction the administration is heading, it will definitely hurt JPL – that’s why I’m so committed to reversing this.”

NASA still hopes for some type of scaled back Mars missions in the 2016 to 2020 timeframe which will be outlined in an upcoming article.

In the meantime, the entire future of America’s Search for Life on the Red Planet now hinges on NASA’s Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory rover speeding thru interplanetary space and a pinpoint touchdown inside the layered terrain of Gale Crater on August 6, 2012.

Curiosity will be NASA’s third and last generation of US Mars rovers – 4th Generation Axed !

NASA’s Opportunity Rover is now Earth’s only surviving robot on Mars

President Obama to Attend Endeavour’s Last Launch on April 29

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President Barack Obama and the entire First Family apparently plan to attend the final launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour, according to government officials and multiple news outlets. Endeavour is slated to blast off on the STS-134 mission next Friday, April 29 from the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida at 3:47 p.m. EDT.

There has already been intense drama surrounding the STS-134 mission because it is being commanded by Mark Kelly. Kelly is the husband of U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona who was critically wounded by gunshots to her head at point blank range during an assassination attempt while attending a meet and greet with her constituents on Jan. 8, 2011. Six people – including a nine year old girl and a federal judge – were killed and a dozen more were wounded that awful day.

Space Shuttle Endeavour awaits her final launch on April 29, 2011 from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL Credit: Ken Kremer

The Presidents appearance at the STS-134 launch will almost certainly lead to skyrocketing interest, but has not yet been officially announced by NASA and the White House. The event is not yet listed on the presidents official schedule.

However, a tweet by the staff of Congresswoman Giffords on her official website states Obama will attend; “We are very happy that Pres. Obama is coming to Mark’s launch! This historic mission will be #Endeavours final flight.”

NASA spokesman Allard Beutel told me today, “I cannot confirm whether the president will be coming to launch next week. If he’s coming, which I can’t confirm, we are a White House agency.”

“We always welcome a visit from the President,” Beutel said.

Security is always tight at KSC during a shuttle launch. A visit by President Obama will certainly lead to even tighter security controls and even more massive traffic jams.

Giant crowds were already expected for this historic final spaceflight of Space Shuttle Endeavour, NASA’s youngest Orbiter, on her 25th mission to space.

Endeavour is carrying the $2 Billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) ) on a 14-day flight to the International Space Station, a premier science instrument that will collect cosmic rays, search for dark energy, dark matter and anti matter and seeks to determine the origin of the Universe. See my photo below of the AMS from inside the Space Station Processing Facility (SSPF) at KSC with the principal investigator, Nobel Prize winner Prof. Sam Ting of MIT.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden just announced that Endeavour will be displayed at the California Science Museum following her retirement from active flight service upon landing.

President Obama last visited KSC on April 15, 2010 and gave a major policy speech outlining his radical new human spaceflight goals for NASA. Obama decided to cancel NASA’s Project Constellation ‘Return to the Moon’ Program and the Ares 1 and Ares 5 rockets. He directed NASA to plan a mission for astronauts to visit an Asteroid by 2025 and one of the moons of Mars in the 2030’s. Obama also decided to revive the Orion crew module built by Lockheed Martin, which is now envisaged for missions beyond low earth orbit (LEO), and invest in development of new commercial space taxis such as the Dragon spacecraft by SpaceX for transporting astronaut crews to the ISS.

Spokesman Beutel said that during the April 2010 visit, “The President met with space workers.” He could not comment on details of the president’s plans for the STS-134 visit and said information would have to come from the White House.

The last time a sitting president watched a live human space launch was in 1998 when then President Bill Clinton attended the blastoff of the return to space of Astronaut and Senator John Glenn. Glenn was the first American to orbit the Earth back in 1962. Glenn’s first flight took place a little over a year after the historic first human spaceflight by Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin on April 12, 1961- which occurred exactly 50 years ago last week.

Congresswoman Giffords is recovering from her wounds and Shuttle Commander Kelly has said that she would like to attend the STS-134 launch. But no official announcement about her attendance has been made by NASA and depends on many factors including decisions by the doctors treating her in a Houston area hospital.

The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) and Nobel Prize Winner and Principal Investigator Sam Ting of MIT - inside the Space Station Processing Facility at KSC. The STS-134 mission of shuttle Endeavour will deliver the AMS to the ISS. The AMS purpose is to try and determine the origin of the Universe. . Credit: Ken Kremer
Close up of Endeavour crew cabin, ET, SRB and astronaut walkway to the White Room. Credit: Ken Kremer