National Space Society Issues Position Paper on Protecting Earth from Cosmic Impacts

On February 15, 2013, a meteor exploded over the Chelyabinsk region of Russia. The blast damaged over 7,000 buildings and almost 1,500 people suffered injuries requiring treatment. As we observe the anniversary of that event, it is important to understand its significance and specifically what it means for the United States. Millions of objects in space, including asteroids and comets, are in orbits around the Sun that cross Earth’s orbit. When they approach Earth, they are referred to as Near-Earth Objects (NEOs). Some NEOs are large enough to cause significant damage if they impact the Earth. Many such objects have struck Earth in the past, inflicting damage ranging from trivial up to and including global catastrophe. While a future large strike with catastrophic consequences is certain, we do not know whether it will happen in 150 million years or fifteen months.

The Washington DC-based National Space Society (NSS) has been a consistent supporter of actions to defend our home planet from such events. In a position paper released today, the Society focuses attention on the near-term need and the opportunity to significantly improve our ability to detect and track collision threats to the Earth. While recognizing that this is a global problem, the paper focuses on recommended actions for the United States. Additionally, NSS urges all space faring nations to add an amount of at least one percent of their civilian space budget for developing defenses against these threats.

NSS believes that the immediate task before us is to find and track NEOs large enough to cause damage on Earth. To this end, current US ground-based searches should continue, including use of the Arecibo radio telescope. The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope should be fully funded and encouraged to vigorously pursue NEO detection. The B612 Foundation’s Sentinel Project and the JPL NEOCam infra-red space telescope should be fully funded. The Society also feels that now is the time to more seriously address the detection of long period comets. Additional work should be done on NEO characterization and deflection research.

NSS Director and Space Settlement Advocacy Committee chair Al Globus summed up the situation: “We face an existential threat. We can develop the ability to remove it. There is little or no benefit to waiting. Let’s do it.”

See NSS Position Paper on Protecting Earth from Cosmic Impacts.

National Space Society Opposes HR 3625

The Washington DC-based National Space Society (NSS) strongly opposes the passage of House of Representatives bill HR 3625. This bill would (a) require NASA to obtain legislative permission to cancel four of its most expensive human spaceflight and science programs, and (b) allow contractors for these programs to have immediate access to hundreds of millions of dollars in funds which currently are held in reserve to pay the government’s obligations in the event of such termination. The four covered programs are the Space Launch System, the Orion crew capsule, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), and the International Space Station.

Ordinarily, government agencies like NASA have the right to terminate a project if it no longer appears necessary or cost effective, provided it pays “termination liability costs” which are sometimes provided for in such contracts. It is unusual to require an act of Congress in order to stop a program. As a practical matter, getting Congress to pass such an act would be extremely difficult.

Consequently, if HR 3625 is enacted, even after the responsible agency determined that a project was no longer useful, contractors would continue to get millions of dollars for unnecessary and unwanted programs until such a time as Congress passed a bill specifically calling for the cancellation of the project and allocating the funds required for program termination.

“The ability to cancel a program for convenience is essential to allow the government to deal with changing circumstances,” said NSS Executive Vice President Paul Werbos. “Requiring explicit Congressional approval to terminate a program for convenience represents a significant shift in power between the Executive and Legislative branches of government that should not be taken lightly.”

National Space Society Position Statement on HR 3625
December 2013

The National Space Society (NSS) opposes passage of HR3625, which was approved December 11, 2013 by the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. This bill, if approved by the full House and Senate, would have the impact of requiring that funds currently reserved for termination costs in the case of program cancellation for convenience be immediately spent on a short list of named programs. HR3625 also states that NASA cannot cancel these programs without Congress first passing a law to that effect.

Although this may initially sound like a good idea, HR3625 violates standards of professional program management and creates a special class of NASA programs that may be more difficult to cancel in the future. As a result, potential termination actions could focus on other NASA programs that are not covered by this Act. Additionally, HR3625 sets a bad example for management across the entire US government, and may lead to further attempts to create a wide range of specially protected programs. All NASA, and all government programs, are normally evaluated regularly on their merits by both executive and legislative branches. Although it is probable that HR3625 would have minimal impact on termination-for-cause actions that derive from poor performance, it would add additional obstacles to termination-for-convenience actions and make such actions more difficult. Finally, this bill potentially could create a “moral hazard” — a precedent encouraging companies to take additional risks if they felt a covered program would be more difficult to terminate.

NSS Comment on NASA FY 2010 Budget

The National Space Society (NSS) was informed that President Obama has requested $18.7 billion for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for Fiscal Year 2010, an increase of $900 million over the current year’s budget. The Recovery Act (stimulus bill) passed earlier this month provided an additional $1 billion to NASA.

“We are pleased that one of the four budget priorities for NASA includes returning Americans to the Moon,” Greg Allison, NSS Executive Vice President, said. “This is a worthy goal for the world’s leading space agency. It will challenge a new generation of American scientists and engineers, open vast new resources for economic development, and drive improvements in technology.”

Other areas highlighted in the budget were climate change research and monitoring, aeronautic research, and completion and utilization of the International Space Station. “We agree with the Administration’s decision to stick with the plan to retire the shuttle by the end of 2010,” Allison added. “This is necessary to keep new launch vehicle development on schedule.” The Ares launch system is not expected to be ready until 2015, requiring the United States to purchase rides to space from the Russians in the interim.

No details were yet available regarding programs such as additional funds for Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) to provide cargo to the International Space Station, or funds for research into Space Solar Power. NSS members expressed their support for these programs to their members of Congress during the NSS and Space Exploration Alliance Blitz on Capitol Hill earlier this week.

“Both of these programs are vital to the long-term economic health of our nation,” Allison said. “COTS is needed to spur the development of less-expensive launch vehicles by the private sector, and research into space solar power now will allow the United States to reap the long-term rewards of an endless supply of clean energy.”

Media contact:
Brett Silcox
Phone: (202) 429-1600
E-mail: nsshq@nss.org

About National Space Society

The National Space Society (NSS) is an independent, grassroots organization dedicated to the creation of a spacefaring civilization. Founded in 1974, NSS is widely acknowledged as the preeminent citizen’s voice on space. NSS counts thousands of members and more than 50 chapters in the United States and around the world. The society also publishes Ad Astra magazine, an award-winning periodical chronicling the most important developments in space. For more information about NSS, visit http://www.nss.org/.

Remembering Space Pioneer Konrad K. Dannenberg

Space pioneer Konrad K. Dannenberg passed away on the 16th of February 2009 at the age of 96. He was not only one of the last of Wernher Von Braun’s original rocket team, but one of the most active publicly. In the 1920’s Dannenberg began his rocketry career developing mail rockets after a lecture by Max Valier inspired his interest in space. Mr. Dannenberg designed the injectors for the A4 “V-2” rocket. Dannenberg went to Ft. Bliss Texas as part of Operation Paper Clip to advance US Army missile development. Later he transferred with the rest of the German Rocket Team to Redstone Arsenal near Huntsville Alabama where he became a manager on the US Army’s Jupiter and Redstone missiles. He joined NASA when the Marshall Space Flight Center was formed and became a key member of America’s first program to land people on the Moon. Mr. Dannenberg rose to the position of deputy director of the Saturn V Program, developing the largest rocket ever flown. This earned him NASA’s Distinguished Service Medal.

After retiring from NASA in 1973 Dannenberg worked extensively with young people to foster their interest in space. He was an instructor at the US Space Camp, and led the way for student flight experiments on space shuttle Get-Away-Special (GAS) canisters. As a man of vision, Dannenberg was active in the World Future Society. He was a charter member and served on the Board of Directors of the L5 Society, one of the parent societies to the National Space Society. Mr. Dannenberg played a critical role in starting Huntsville’s chapter, the Huntsville Alabama L5 Society (HAL5). He called HAL5’s first meeting.

Dannenberg was a major advocate for Newspace. He was an advisor to the Canadian X-Prize Team that sought to build an uprated manned V-2. He was there in the Mojave when Burt Rutan’s team won the X-Prize and later presented NSS’s Von Braun award to Rutan. Dannenberg’s career spanned the entire space age. He inspired many young people to seek careers in space, science, and engineering. Many engineers were inspired to excellence by the example Dannenberg established both in his areas of technology development and public service. Konrad Dannenberg set the bar that we should all strive to meet. Those of us that were honored to know Konrad will dearly miss him.

In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting that people donate to the Skylab Restoration Fund at the US Space and Rocket Center Foundation. For more information, see www.spacecamp.com or call 256-837-3400.