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NASA: OSIRIS-Rex has discovered water on Asteroid Bennu

Brandon Moseley

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NASA announced Monday that its Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft has already discovered water locked inside the clays that make up its scientific target, the asteroid Bennu.

During the mission’s approach phase, between mid-August and early December, the spacecraft traveled 1.4 million miles on its journey from Earth to arrive at a location 12 miles from Bennu last week. During this time, the science team on Earth aimed three of the spacecraft’s instruments towards Bennu and began making the mission’s first scientific observations of the asteroid.

NASA announced that data obtained from the spacecraft’s two spectrometers, the OSIRIS-REx Visible and Infrared Spectrometer (OVIRS) and the OSIRIS-REx

Thermal Emission Spectrometer (OTES) reveals that the presence of molecules that contain oxygen and hydrogen atoms bonded together, known as “hydroxyls.” The team suspects that these hydroxyl groups exist globally across the asteroid in water-bearing clay minerals, meaning that at some point, Bennu’s rocky material interacted with water. While Bennu itself is too small to have ever hosted liquid water, the finding does indicate that liquid water was present at some time on Bennu’s parent body, a much larger asteroid.

“The presence of hydrated minerals across the asteroid confirms that Bennu, a remnant from early in the formation of the solar system, is an excellent specimen for the OSIRIS-REx mission to study the composition of primitive volatiles and organics,” said OVIRS deputy instrument scientist Amy Simon at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “When samples of this material are returned by the mission to Earth in 2023, scientists will receive a treasure trove of new information about the history and evolution of our solar system.”

Additionally, data obtained from the OSIRIS-REx Camera Suite (OCAMS) corroborate ground-based telescopic observations of Bennu and confirm the original model developed in 2013 by OSIRIS-REx Science Team Chief Michael Nolan and collaborators. That model closely predicted the asteroid’s actual shape, with Bennu’s diameter, rotation rate, inclination, and overall shape presented almost exactly as projected.

One outlier from the predicted shape model is the size of the large boulder near Bennu’s south pole. The ground-based shape model calculated this boulder to be at least 33 feet (10 meters) in height. Preliminary calculations from OCAMS observations show that the boulder is closer to 164 feet (50 meters) in height, with a width of approximately 180 feet (55 meters).

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Bennu’s surface material is a mix of very rocky, boulder-filled regions and a few relatively smooth regions that lack boulders. However, the quantity of boulders on the surface is higher than expected. The team will make further observations at closer ranges to more accurately assess where a sample can be taken on Bennu to later be returned to Earth. OSIRIS-REx is NASA’s first asteroid sample return mission.

Space exploration and rocket manufacturing and design are major Alabama industries. The Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville employs thousands of Alabamians.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Mark McDaniel reappointed to NASA Human Exploration and Operations Advisory Committee

Brandon Moseley

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NASA (STOCK PHOTO)

Congressman Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, announced Thursday NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine’s reappointment of Huntsville’s Mark McDaniel to a two-year term on the Human Exploration and Operations Committee of the NASA Advisory Council.

Brooks initially recommended McDaniel in 2018 to Bridenstine. Bridenstine is a personal friend and former House colleague of Brooks. Brooks cited McDaniel’s past record of exemplary service on the NASA Advisory Council. The NAC is NASA’s highest civilian advisory board.

“Mark McDaniel has done an exemplary job advising NASA on its future missions as a member of NASA Advisory Council’s Human Exploration and Operations Committee,” Brooks said, praising the decision. “Mark’s past service and qualifications make him an excellent choice for reappointment to another term on the committee. I congratulate Mark on his reappointment.”

“I greatly appreciate my friend NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine for his thoughtful consideration in reappointing Mark McDaniel,” Brooks continued. “Jim’s leadership at NASA has been exemplary, and I am glad he recognized Mark’s contributions to this important NASA advisory committee.”

“Mark McDaniel has been a dedicated member of the NAC for several years, and we look forward to him continuing to provide his expertise to the Committee,” said Bridenstine. “As we prepare to go forward to the Moon and beyond, it is critical that NASA has top experts like Mark on our team. His wealth of knowledge is a great benefit to the Artemis program, as well as our mission to send human explorers to Mars.”

“Congressman Mo Brooks has provided great leadership to our nation, state and NASA,” McDaniel said. “I thank Congressman Brooks for recommending my reappointment to the NASA Advisory Council- Human Exploration and Operations Committee.”

“I am confident that under the leadership of Administrator Jim Bridenstine and the tremendous team he has put together, our nation will put the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024,” McDaniel added. “Under Administrator Bridenstine’s leadership NASA is setting the stage for human exploration of Mars and the heavens beyond.”

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Then-NASA administrator Daniel Goldin appointed McDaniel to the NASA Advisory Council in October 2000, and then-NASA administrator Sean O’Keefe reappointed McDaniel to the council in November 2002 and November 2004. During McDaniel’s tenure on the NAC, President George W. Bush announced the “Moon, Mars, and Beyond Initiative,” which set the nation on a more aggressive pace for space exploration.

On Jan. 26, 2007, McDaniel received the NASA Public Service Medal for his “Leadership and Council to America’s Space Agency, his advocacy of Human Space Flight and Exploration and dedication to the Aerospace Community at large.”

Brooks is in his fifth term representing Alabama’s 5th Congressional District. NASA and its contractors are a major employer in the 5th District.

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Jones bill aimed at bringing jobs back from China included in Senate NDAA

Brandon Moseley

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Sen. Doug Jones speaks on the floor of the U.S. Senate. (CSPAN)

Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, said Tuesday that the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act will include a bipartisan proposal he sponsored last month to incentivize investments in American semiconductor manufacturing businesses instead of Chinese-owned companies.

The provision was approved in the Senate on Tuesday in a 96 to 4 vote as an amendment to the Senate version of the NDAA.

“We all know that China is a bad actor on the world stage, which is why it is so crucial that the United States continues to lead the world in semiconductor technology,” Jones said. “Not only will this provision help bring jobs back from China, it will incentivize investment in Alabama companies and will strengthen our national security by reducing reliance on foreign manufacturing.”

The Alabama Micro/Nano Science and Technology Center at Auburn University is a world leader in microelectrics engineering, and with 15 semiconductor companies in Alabama, the state stands to benefit substantially from increased investment in American semiconductor manufacturing.

Semiconductors are used in a large variety of electronic devices including smartphones, digital cameras, televisions and some computers. While the U.S. revolutionized the microelectronic industry and invented nearly all the key technology used to this day, competitors in China have made huge investments into their microelectronics industries in recent years to challenge and undercut U.S. leadership.

By 2030, Asia is projected to control 83 percent of the global semiconductor manufacturing supply while domestic production could be less than 10 percent. Jones said that if this were to happen, it would make the U.S. reliant on foreign-made microelectronics and would potentially pose huge risks to U.S. national and economic security.

The Jones amendment would direct the secretary of commerce to create a grant program for constructing, expanding or modernizing commercial semiconductor fabrication, assembly, testing, packaging and advanced R&D facilities in the U.S.

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It would also direct the secretary of defense to create a partnership program with the private sector to encourage the development of advanced, measurably secure microelectronics for use by the Department of Defense, Intelligence Community, critical infrastructure and other national-security applications.

The amendment also requires the secretary of commerce to commence a review within 120 days assessing the state of the U.S. semiconductor industrial base. It establishes a Multilateral Microelectronics Security Fund, with which the U.S., its allies and partners will work to reach agreements promoting consistency in their policies related to microelectronics, greater transparency including supply chains and greater alignment in export control and foreign direct investment policies.

The amendment would direct the president to establish a subcommittee on semiconductor technology and innovation within the National Science and Technology Council and directs the secretary of commerce to establish a national semiconductor technology center to conduct research, fund semiconductor startups and a Manufacturing USA Institute.

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Finally, the amendment creates a National Advance Packaging Manufacturing Program, and encourages the secretary of labor to work with the private sector on workforce training and apprenticeships in semiconductor manufacturing.

The House passed its own version of the NDAA on Tuesday. The Senate is expected to pass their version of the NDAA in the next few days. A conference committee will then be formed to address differences between the two bills in hopes of reaching a compromise version that will pass both chambers of Congress.

Jones faces former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville in the Nov. 3 general election.

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Byrne praises House passage of NDAA authorizing additional Austal ship

Brandon Moseley

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Rep. Bradley Byrne speaks on the floor of the U.S. House. (CSPAN)

The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday passed the William “Mac” Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 by a vote of 295 to 125. Congressman Bradley Byrne is a member of the House Armed Services Committee, which passed an earlier version of the NDAA on July 1, 2020, by a vote of 56 to 0.

The bill includes an amendment authored by Byrne authorizing $260 million to construct an additional Expeditionary Fast Transport vessel at Austal Mobile. This year’s NDAA is named for Ranking Member Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, who chaired the committee during the 114th and 115th Congresses.

“The men and women of our Armed Services deserve our complete support, and I’m pleased that the House came together in a largely bipartisan manner to give our warfighters the resources necessary to protect us,” Byrne said. “Both in committee and on the House floor, all Members provided input to strengthen this bill, a practice that occurs far too little in today’s House. While I do not agree with everything in the bill, it remains worthy of support, and I’m hopeful that some of the partisan provisions added on the House floor will be removed through compromise with the Senate.”

Byrne said the additional Austal ship is important for Southwest Alabama.

“Importantly for Southwest Alabama, this bill passed with my amendment to authorize the construction of an additional EPF at the Austal shipyard in Mobile,” Byrne said. “I appreciate my Congressional colleagues for acknowledging Austal and the EPF’s importance to our national defense and for their support of the work performed by the 4,000 skilled men and women at Austal Mobile. Construction of this world-class vessel will move us even closer to the Navy’s goal of a 355-ship fleet.”

The NDAA sets policy and authorizes funding for the entire United States military and has been passed by the House each year for the previous 59 years. The Senate is currently considering its own version of the NDAA.

Byrne pointed out several highlights from this year’s NDAA including that it adheres to last year’s bipartisan budget agreement and fully funds the Trump administration’s request.

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The bill includes $740.5 billion total for National Defense Discretionary programs, including $130.6 billion for procurement of advanced weapons systems and $106.2 billion for Research Development Test and Evaluation. The bill also funds a vital nuclear modernization programs to ensure that nuclear deterrent is safe and reliable. It fully funds the B-21 bomber, a new Columbia Class submarine along with an additional attack submarine, and begins work on the W93 warhead that will be critical to meet STRATCOM Commander requirements for the sea-based deterrent.

Byrne says the NDAA also takes a tough stance on China by laying the foundation for an Indo-Pacific Deterrence Initiative to deter China, modeled on the European Deterrence Initiative. The NDAA increases funding in emergent technologies, such as AI, to maintain a technical edge against China, and starts taking financial actions to pursue China’s graduation from the World Bank and greater transparency with China’s debt.

Byrne said that the NDAA provides support for troops and families, including a 3 percent pay raise.

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Byrne said that the bill also deals with the COVID-19 response. It ensures that the Department of Defense has the diagnostic equipment, testing capabilities, and personal protective equipment necessary to protect our Armed Forces. It requires the National Security Strategy to address the provision of drugs, biologics, vaccines and other critical medical equipment to ensure combat readiness and force health protection.

Byrne said that the NDAA includes almost $600 million above the President’s Budget Request for science and technology and investments in critical emerging technology areas including artificial intelligence, autonomous systems and biotechnology.

The bill changed considerably on the floor of the House. Some GOP Congressmen including Mo Brooks, R-Alabama, voted for the bill in committee and against the bill on the House floor because of some of those changes. President Donald Trump has threatened to veto the bill unless changes to the bill are made before it reaches his desk.

The Senate and House versions will go to a conference committee where a compromise version will be drafted that can pass both Houses.

Byrne represents Alabama’s 1st Congressional District. He is leaving Congress at the end of the year.

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Aderholt critical of Democrats’ NASA budget proposal

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Congressman Robert Aderholt, R-Haleyville, was critical of a Democratic-sponsored spending bill that level funds NASA at 2020 levels for Fiscal Year 2021.

“One of my greatest duties in Congress is serving as a member on the House Committee on Appropriations and as Ranking Member on the Commerce, Justice, and Science Subcommittee,” Aderholt said in a statement to constituents. “As a member of these two bodies, it is my responsibility to diligently review the upcoming fiscal year spending bill. This year, NASA has been a huge topic, especially with the Artemis missions and President Trump’s request for an increase in the space programs budget.”

Aderholt said he thought it was a “mistake” to not give NASA more money this year.

“Space exploration and carrying Moon missions as well as planning for Mars missions spurs amazing innovations in the private sector,” Aderholt said. “Maintaining our leadership in space is also a national security issue. Overall, we are able to partner with other nations, but we must never be in a position of not controlling our own fate in space. That’s why I criticized the Democrats spending plan during a subcommittee bill markup this week and advocated for President Trump’s increased budget request for NASA. There is much our two parties can agree on with regards to the space program, and I look forward to continuing working on the space budget as this year’s legislative process continues.”

President Donald Trump had requested a 12 percent increase to the NASA budget. Much of that money would have gone to funding the Space Launch System and the Artemis mission to the Moon. House Democrats have proposed a zero percent increase.

“The flat NASA allocation reveals a determination to rebuke America’s moon-to-Mars Artemis initiative,” said Aderholt, the ranking member of the CJS subcommittee. “President Trump rightly wants more funding to reenergize America’s leadership in space, so much so he’s willing to pay for it within an overall austere budget request, and we should follow that lead.”

NASA is targeting 6:50 a.m. CST Thursday, July 30, for the launch of its Mars 2020 Perseverance rover on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The mission is designed to better understand the geology and climate of Mars and seek signs of ancient life on the Red Planet using the robotic scientist, which weighs just under 2,300 pounds (1,043 kilograms) and is the size of a small car.

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The rover will collect and store a set of rock and soil samples that could be returned to Earth by future Mars sample return missions. It also will test new technologies to benefit future robotic and human exploration of Mars. Perseverance is part of America’s larger Moon to Mars exploration approach that includes missions to the Moon as a way to prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.

NASA hopes to send the first woman and next man to the Moon by 2024 and establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon by 2028 through the Artemis program.

Aderholt is in his 12th term representing Alabama’s 4th Congressional District. He faces Rick Neighbors in the Nov. 3 general election.

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