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House passes Brooks bill designating Marshall as NASA’s rocket propulsion lead

Brandon Moseley

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Last Wednesday afternoon, on a unanimous bipartisan voice vote, the U.S. House passed Congressman Mo Brooks’, R-Huntsville, bill, HR5345, the “American Leadership in Space Technology and Advanced Rocketry Act” or “ALSTAR Act.” The bill formally designates Alabama’s Marshall Space Flight Center as NASA’s lead center for rocket propulsion. In addition, the ALSTAR Act directs Marshall to explore, develop, coordinate and mature new rocket propulsion technology in cooperation with government and private sector partners.

“I appreciate my colleagues’ support for designating Marshall Space Flight Center as NASA’s lead center for rocket propulsion,” Congressman Brooks said. “It is gratifying to see the ALSTAR Act pass the House with overwhelming bipartisan support. My colleagues recognize that developing and improving rocket propulsion is essential to America’s maintaining our leadership in space exploration and national security. In turn, my colleagues also recognize that Marshall Space Flight Center is best equipped to take the lead on exploring, developing, and maturing new rocket propulsion technology in cooperation with government and private sector partners. Perhaps most importantly, the ALSTAR Act formally protects the Marshall Space Flight Center’s rocket propulsion efforts and team from those political forces that may, in the future, seek to shift Marshall’s rocket propulsion efforts, and jobs, elsewhere.”

“As Congress guides America’s national space policy, we must promote the robust rocket propulsion industrial base that is essential to our space presence,” Rep. Brooks said. “After all, rocket propulsion is fundamental to everything we do in space. The ALSTAR Act ensures the long-term stability of the rocket propulsion industry through better coordination and collaboration between all relevant stakeholders.”

Marshall is one of NASA’s largest field installations, with almost 6,000 civil service and contractor employees, an annual budget of approximately $2.5 billion and a broad spectrum of human spaceflight, science and technology development missions.

On March 15, 1960, President Dwight D. Eisenhower (R) signed an executive order officially naming the new space center the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center. General George C. Marshall was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during World War II. He selected then Major Eisenhower for a series of promotions that eventually led him to being the top allied officer in the European Theatre. Following the war, Marshall served as Secretary of State for the Truman Administration where he won the Nobel Peace Prize for founding the Marshall Plan that provided aid to Europe to recover from World War II. Also on March 16, 1960, Eisenhower signed an executive order transferring the Saturn rocket program from the Army to NASA. On September 8, President Eisenhower visited Huntsville, Ala. to dedicate the new NASA field center. The George C. Marshall Space Flight Center was placed under the direction of former German scientist Dr. Wernher Von Braun. As part of his remarks dedicating the center, President Eisenhower referred to General Marshall as a “man of war, yet a builder of peace.”

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The Marshall Space Flight Center was tasked with building the Saturn V rocket that launched man to the moon in 1969. Marshall has been heavily involved in numerous NASA missions including the Apollo landings on the surface of the moon, Skylab, the Space Shuttle program that carried a generation of Americans into space, the Hubble Telescope which has revolutionized astronomy, and the Space Launch System which has the potential to possibly get man to Mars.

Brooks added, “Marshall Space Flight Center is the birthplace of the American space program. Dr. Wernher von Braun and his team famously pioneered rocket propulsion at Marshall during the Space Race of the 50s and 60s. Marshall has decades of experience working with other government agencies and industry partners to study and coordinate rocket propulsion technologies that are critical to national security, intelligence gathering, communications, weather forecasting, navigation, communications, entertainment, land use, Earth observation, and scientific exploration. The ALSTAR Act solidifies Marshall’s status as America’s premier rocket propulsion center and challenges Marshall to develop the next generation of rocket propulsion technology.”

“With President Trump’s establishment of Space Force as an independent branch of the military, rocket propulsion is recognized as even more important to securing America’s future than ever before because America’s military relies heavily on its space assets (global positioning satellites being but one example) to protect our national security,” Brooks said in a speech on the floor of the House of Representatives.

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and the military’s Redstone Arsenal have over the last 60+ years transformed Huntsville from a farming and textiles community to one of the foremost aerospace and technology hubs in the entire world.

Congressman Mo Brooks represents Alabama’s Fifth Congressional District, which includes the Marshall Space Flight Center.

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2020 Mars rover will land near Jezero Crater

Brandon Moseley

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Monday, NASA announced that it has chosen Jezero Crater as the landing site for its upcoming Mars 2020 rover mission. The site was selected after a five year search, during which every available detail of more than 60 candidate locations on the Red Planet were scrutinized and debated by the mission team and the planetary science community.

“The landing site in Jezero Crater offers geologically rich terrain, with landforms reaching as far back as 3.6 billion years old, that could potentially answer important questions in planetary evolution and astrobiology,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “Getting samples from this unique area will revolutionize how we think about Mars and its ability to harbor life.”

The rover mission is scheduled to launch in July 2020 as NASA’s next step in exploration of the Red Planet. It will search for signs of not ancient habitable conditions, including past microbial life. The rover will collect rock and soil samples and store them in a cache on the planet’s surface. NASA and ESA (European Space Agency) are studying future mission concepts to retrieve the samples and return them to Earth, so this landing site sets the stage for the next decade of Mars exploration.

Jezero Crater is located on the western edge of Isidis Planitia, a giant impact basin just north of the Martian equator. Western Isidis presents some of the oldest and most scientifically interesting landscapes Mars has to offer. Mission scientists believe the 28-mile-wide crater was once home to an ancient river delta and could have collected and preserved ancient organic molecules and other potential signs of microbial life from the water and sediments that flowed into the crater billions of years ago. Jezero Crater’s ancient lake-delta system offers many promising sampling targets of at least five different kinds of rock, including clays and carbonates that have high potential to preserve signatures of past life. In addition, the material carried into the delta from a large watershed may contain a wide variety of minerals from inside and outside the crater. That geologic diversity is what makes the Jezero Crater so appealing to Mars 2020 scientists.

“The Mars community has long coveted the scientific value of sites such as Jezero Crater, and a previous mission contemplated going there, but the challenges with safely landing were considered prohibitive,” said Ken Farley, project scientist for Mars 2020 at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “But what was once out of reach is now conceivable, thanks to the 2020 engineering team and advances in Mars entry, descent and landing technologies.”

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Landing a rover at Jezero crater presents a challenge for the team’s entry, descent and landing (EDL) engineers. Along with the massive nearby river delta and small crater impacts, the site contains numerous boulders and rocks to the east, cliffs to the west, and depressions filled with aeolian bedforms (wind-derived ripples in sand that could trap a rover) in several locations.

The mission engineers have refined the landing system such that they were able to reduce the Mars 2020 landing zone to an area 50 percent smaller than that for the landing of NASA’s Curiosity rover at Gale Crater in 2012. This allowed the science community to consider more challenging landing sites like Jezero Crater. The sites of greatest scientific interest led NASA to add a new capability called Terrain Relative Navigation (TRN). TRN will enable the “sky crane” descent stage, the rocket-powered system that carries the rover down to the surface, to avoid hazardous areas.

“Nothing has been more difficult in robotic planetary exploration than landing on Mars,” said Zurbuchen. “The Mars 2020 engineering team has done a tremendous amount of work to prepare us for this decision. The team will continue their work to truly understand the TRN system and the risks involved, and we will review the findings independently to reassure we have maximized our chances for success.”

A final report will be presented to an independent review board and NASA Headquarters in the fall of 2019.

Mars 2020 will launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Scientists believe that Mars is 4.6 billion years old (~slightly older than Earth) and that early Mars had seas, an atmosphere, and perhaps life; but Mars is smaller than Earth so over time its molten iron core cooled off. Without the internal core rotation, Mars lost its magnetic field. Without a magnetic field it began losing it’s atmosphere to outer space. Water that evaporated was lost to space instead of returning to the surface as rain or snow and slowly most of the planet’s surface water dried up and Martian life either went extinct or is relegated to some minor habitat we have not yet discovered. It is an intriguing theory; but scientists are still trying to prove that all of that happened. Mars Rover 2020 hopes to add to our knowledge of Mars.

Huntsville is the home of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.  Thousands of Alabama workers are employed by NASA and the American aerospace industry.

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Shelby discusses disaster assistance for the Wiregrass with Trump

Chip Brownlee

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Alabama’s senior U.S. Senator Richard Shelby said Thursday that President Donald Trump “agreed to help” with assistance for those affected by Hurricane Michael in Alabama’s Wiregrass region.

Shelby tweeted Thursday that he spoke with Trump about the need for assistance after Michael devastated portions of Southeast Alabama in early October.

“During my meeting with @POTUS, I brought up the need for disaster relief in the #Wiregrass following #HurricaneMichael,” Shelby tweeted. “President Trump agreed to help.”

While Trump approved a Major Disaster Declaration last week for four affected counties, Geneva, Henry, Houston and Mobile, it only provides public assistance grants, which reimburse local governments and community organizations for certain expenses incurred because of the disaster but can’t be disbursed to individuals recovering from a disaster.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has also not yet approved the state of Alabama’s application for an agricultural disaster declaration.

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The Alabama Emergency Management Agency has requested IA grants, and the agency has also provided additional evidence to demonstrate that certain Alabama counties qualify for the individual assistance.

Individual assistance, where it to be approved in the coming days by the Trump administration, would include financial assistance, direct aid and disaster loans. The assistance could be used for losses that were not covered by insurance, are of critical need and couldn’t be covered in other ways. It’s not intended to restore damaged property to its condition before the disaster, according to FEMA.

Most disaster assistance is provided in the form of loans administered by the Small Business Administration.

Shelby’s discussion with Trump comes after U.S. Sen. Doug Jones urged President Donald Trump last week to push for approval of the individual assistance grants for Alabamians impacted by Hurricane Michael. Jones also supported agriculture assistance in a separate letter to the Department of Agriculture.

Neighboring counties in Florida and Georgia have already received IA grants.

Hurricane Michael was one of the most powerful hurricanes to make landfall in the continental United States, causing more than $204 million in estimated agriculture losses and $307 million in estimated economic losses in Alabama, according to a report from the Alabama Cooperative Extension System at Auburn University.

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Jones co-sponsors bipartisan bill to address growing chronic wasting disease problem

Brandon Moseley

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U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, joined Sens. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, and Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, in introducing legislation to authorizes a special resource study to determine how chronic wasting disease (CWD) spreads and could be prevented in deer and elk.

CWD can affect both wild and domestic herds of deer and elk in 25 states. However, state recommendations for preventing the spread of the disease vary. This bill would give state wildlife agencies and wildlife experts information to conduct targeted research on how the disease is transmitted, determine which areas are most at risk, and develop consistent advice for hunters to prevent further spread.

“As an avid outdoorsman and hunter, I am deeply troubled by the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease,” said Senator Jones. “This disease is threatening to impact the wildlife population in Alabama just as it has in a number of other states throughout the country. That’s why it is so vital for the Senate to pass legislation that will ultimately give state and local wildlife officials the tools they need to contain the spread of CWD.”

“Chronic wasting disease has negatively affected white-tailed and mule deer in Wyoming for decades,” said Senator Barrasso. “To protect our wildlife populations and our hunters, we need to know more about how this disease is spread and which areas are most at risk. Our bill gives wildlife managers the tools they need to research and identify exactly where chronic wasting disease is most prominent and how we can better prevent it. It’s a critical first step to addressing this debilitating disease and keeping our wildlife herds healthy.”

“The deer and elk herds affected by Chronic Wasting Disease are a critical part of Colorado’s wildlife heritage and economy,” said Senator Bennet. “We need to learn more about containing CWD, and this bipartisan legislation will provide the information state wildlife professionals need to align their work and prevent further spread.”

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Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming), Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin), John Thune (R-South Dakota), Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia), and Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi) cosponsored the legislation.

The “Chronic Wasting Disease Transmission in Cervidae Study Act” addresses the needs identified by state wildlife agencies. The bill requires the USDA secretary to enter into an arrangement with the National Academies of Sciences to review current data and best management practices (BMPs) from the CWD Herd Certification Program and state agencies regarding: the pathways and mechanisms for CWD transmission; the areas at risk and geographical patterns of CWD transmission; and gaps in current scientific knowledge regarding transmission to prioritize research to address gaps.

In October the second confirmed case of CWD positive deer was found in Mississippi. The most recent deer was in Pontotoc County. CWD is the most devastating disease facing the deer population today. Alabama has 1.75 million deer. Currently the state is CWD free; Mississippi was CWD free until this summer.

Mississippi Wildlife officials report that an emaciated 1.5-year-old, free-ranging male white-tailed deer was euthanized on October 8, 2018. The deer’s behavior appeared abnormal. The sample was confirmed CWD-positive by the National Veterinary Services Lab in Ames, Iowa, on October 30, 2018. This is the second case of CWD documented in Mississippi.
Alabama’s WFF has tested nearly 8,000 deer since 2002 and has not detected CWD within Alabama.

As part of WFF’s CWD Strategic Surveillance and Response Plan, WFF will increase its CWD surveillance sampling efforts beyond typical surveillance rates in those counties within the 50-mile radius of the Pontotoc County CWD-positive white-tailed deer. These counties include Franklin, Lamar, and Marion counties.

Additional samples for these counties including, but not limited to, voluntary samples from hunter-harvested deer as well as focused efforts on road kills and abnormally behaving deer.

CWD is a neurodegenerative disease found in most deer species, including moose, elk, mule deer and white-tailed deer. It is infectious and always fatal. It is part of a group of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies and is similar to mad cow disease in cattle and scrapie in sheep. These diseases cause irreversible damage to brain tissue that leads to neurological symptoms, emaciation and death of the animal.

Deer infected with CWD can become emaciated, lethargic, have abnormal behavior, and show gradual loss of bodily functions. Other signs include excessive salivation, loss of appetite, progressive weight loss, excessive thirst and urination, and drooping head/ears.

Because it is a prion disease, contact with the spinal and brain tissue of a deer carcass can spread the disease to uninfected deer. To prevent the spread of the disease into Alabama it is now forbidden to import the complete carcasses from members of the cervid family (deer, elk, moose, caribou, etc.) from any other state and Canada.

The rules requires that hunters should completely debone the animal and remove and dispose of any brain or spinal tissue from skull plates, raw capes and hides before returning to Alabama. Those skull plates must be free of any brain or spinal cord material. Velvet-covered antlers are also included in the prohibited materials. Root structures and other soft tissue should also be removed from all teeth. Finished taxidermy products and tanned hides are not affected by the ban.

Overhunting resulted in the near extinction of deer in Alabama by 1905, when there were less than 2,000 deer living in the state, until the state of Alabama and a collection of private landowners in south Alabama stepped in to protect the species. The wolf, bison, elk, cougar, passenger pigeon were all wiped out in Alabama by overhunting. From those humble beginnings, the Alabama Conservation Department, restocked the rest of the state, with most of the restocking done in the 1950s and 1960s.

Gun season for deer in Alabama begins on Saturday and continues until February 10.

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McCarthy defeats Jordan for GOP Minority Leader

Brandon Moseley

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House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy & House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer interviewed on the stage at AIPAC. (Lorie Shaull)

The U.S. House Republican Caucus voted Wednesday 159 to 43 to elect U.S. Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-California) as their new minority leader for the next Congress. House Republicans prepare for life as the minority party for the first time in eight years.

McCarthy was the majority leader for the past four years. He easily defeated Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio). Jordan co-founded of the conservative Freedom Caucus. The vote occurred during a closed-door, secret-ballot election in the Ways and Means Committee room.

The vote was 159 to 43. While it takes 218 votes to become Speaker of the House, McCarthy only needed a simple majority of votes from his GOP colleagues to become minority leader.

Outgoing Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) did not seek another term to his House seat.

“We have a new role and a new mission in the House, and this group is well-equipped to meet the challenge,” Speaker Ryan said. “I know they will defend the significant policy achievements of the last two years, find areas of common ground where possible, and draw a stark contrast with the new liberal majority. This team has the experience, skill, and steadiness to guide us back to the majority, and I congratulate them all on their new positions. In particular, it gives me great confidence as I depart knowing this conference is in good hands with my friend Kevin McCarthy at the top. Bright days are ahead for this team.”

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Alabama Congressman Gary Palmer (R-Hoover) was elected Chair of Policy for the House Republican Caucus.  Prior to his election to Congress, Palmer was cofounder and President of the Alabama Policy Institute (API).

Last week’s “blue wave” election meant that 37 House seats flipped from Republican control to Democratic control.

This means Democrats will pick the next Speaker of the House, likely Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and will pick the chairs of all the House committees. They also have the votes to pass Democratic legislation to the Senate, including the impeachment of President Donald Trump (R).
Congressman Bradley Byrne predicted that it would be “crazy season” in the House.

“Crazy is just one way to put it,” Byrne said on social media. “The Democrat agenda will attempt to undermine the President and all that we have accomplished. I will continue to focus on issues that actually matter like rebuilding our military, growing our economy, and securing our borders.”

McCarthy addressed reporters in a news conference following the vote, vowing to retake control of the House in 2020.

“I know they want to abolish ICE. I know they want to impeach the president,” McCarthy said. “I just don’t think that’s the agenda Americans want.”

While Republicans controlled the House of Representatives for 8 years, they only controlled the U.S. Senate for four years, and Donald J. Trump has only been President for the last two. Despite controlling both Congress and the White House efforts to repeal Obamacare stalled in the Senate; President Trump’s promised border wall never went anywhere in Congress, and the GOP House Caucus was hopelessly divided on how to proceed with immigration reform. The rules of the Senate and the narrow Senate majority meant that many pieces of legislation that passed the more conservative Republican controlled House of Representatives died in the Senate. Trump was not the first choice of many members of the Congress and there was often friction between the House and the White House. Dissatisfaction with Trump, particularly in suburban America, was a factor in last week’s many GOP losses.

Despite the “blue wave” election nationally, all of Alabama’s congressional delegation were easily re-elected to additional terms. Robert Aderholt is Alabama’s longest serving member of the Alabama congressional delegation, having just been re-elected to his twelfth term representing Alabama’s Fourth Congressional District.

The GOP leadership team for the 116th Congress:
Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA)
Republican Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA)
Conference Chair Liz Cheney (R-WY)
NRCC Chair Tom Emmer (R-MN)
Policy Committee Chair Gary Palmer (R-AL)
Conference Vice Chair Mark Walker (R-NC)
Conference Secretary Jason Smith (R-MO)

(Original reporting by Fox News, Politico, and the Yellowhammer News contributed to this report.)

 

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House passes Brooks bill designating Marshall as NASA’s rocket propulsion lead

by Brandon Moseley Read Time: 4 min
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