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NASA administrator promises not to leave International Space Station without alternative plan



Today, NASA's new administrator, Jim Bridenstine, spoke openly with a group of reporters in Washington, DC on NASA's direction, ranging from deep space rockets to climate change.

During this hour's long round table discussion, he maintained NASA's commitment to studying the Earth from space, as well as continuing overcrowding and delayed projects such as James Webb Space Telescope and Space Space System spacecraft. Bridenstine also promised that NASA would not terminate the International Space Station program unless the agency had a profitable alternative on-site.

Here are five of the most interesting topics discussed during the interview:

The Trump Administration's budget application this year was called for NASA to end direct funding of the International Space Station in 2025. The objective of the White House is to transfer full or partial control over it circling the lab to private companies then. But the NASA inspectorate general doubts this plan at a senate hearing in May and notes that there is no interest in the private sector and that a business case for the operation of ISS does not exist yet. However, Bridenstine resisted that he was talking to companies who are very interested in taking control.

"There are companies that are interested in managing ISS from a commercial perspective. It currently exists," Bridenstine said. "And it was before I came to NASA. The companies talked to me about this as a member of Congress long before I came here. "

Bridenstine did not specify which companies would like to use ISS for. He noted that some companies may only want to run part of ISS, while other parts are interrupted. It is also possible for companies to set up their own commercial habitats to use instead of ISS. He stressed that no decisions have been made on this front. "There are a variety of alternatives here, and what the president's budget request made is that it started this conversation and kind of putting it on steroids," says


  The International Space Station

The International Space Station
Image: NASA

Most importantly, he claimed that there will be no gap in access to low ground for the United States. He does not want to repeat what happened to space shuttle when it was interrupted, and there were no American rockets ready to take its place.

"See, there are children who graduate from high school this the month of their whole life, we have an astronaut in space, says Bridenstine. "We have had people living the planet forever, we want it to last forever forever. So no luck: That's the goal."

Over the last decade, NASA has developed a powerful new rocket called the Space Launch System , which will take people to the moon and mars. However, the first launch of the rocket has been consistently delayed over the past decade, and when it is built, it is only expected to start once or twice a year at about $ 1 billion per flight. Critics have claimed that this is far too expensive and that NASA would instead rely on cheaper commercial rockets like SpaceX's Falcon Heavy, which is almost as effective as SLS and starts at $ 90 million per launch.

When asked about these criticisms, Bridenstine acknowledged that SLS has been expensive and slow. "Of course, it's delayed, and it has had its own cost overruns," he said. But he claimed he supports SLS because no other commercial rockets can match their power.

"There are some areas where we do not yet have a mature commercial capacity, and if so, it's my view that NASA has to give the government backbone to get us where we have to go," Bridenstine says. "So when that applies to deep exploration … there is an ability right now that no one else has. And then we want to deliver it. "


An Artistic Rendering of Space Launch System
Image: NASA

To be fair, it's an ability NASA does not have right now and probably won" I have not had any time. SLS will not debut until 2020, and when it does, it will not be in its most powerful form. At least the first three launches of SLS from 2020 to 2024 will have a less powerful upper stage on top. NASA plans to debut the most powerful version in 2025. So it will be many years before we see SLS's full strength.

Bridenstine says he is open to changing SLS if other commercial vehicles can match the rocket's potential in the future. "If it comes someday when someone else can deliver it, we have to think differently," he said. "It always develops." At the same time, SpaceX develops its own rocket called Big Falcon Rocket, which will be more powerful than SLS when it's ready. SpaceX has a very optimistic deadline for the rocket: 2022.

By the end of the year, two of NASA's largest commercial partners – SpaceX and Boeing – will launch their first astronauts to the International Space Station. It will be an important milestone for NASA's Commercial Crew Program, an initiative that entails that private companies will develop spacecraft to take crew to and from a low lane.

However, in January, the Government Office released a doubt that SpaceX and Boeing would meet their Commercial Crew deadlines. It's a problem because NASA runs out of opportunity to send its astronauts to space. At the moment, the Space Agency has purchased a limited number of seats for its astronauts on Russia's Soyuz rocket, but these sites will end in the fall of 2019. If SpaceX and Boeing are not ready to start astronauts, there may be a gap in NASA crew members at the station .

Bridenstine does not think there will be a problem. "I'm convinced that Commercial Crew will be ready when the Soyuz sites expire," he said. He also noted that NASA has looked at the possibility of extending the journeys that future astronauts take to ISS, allowing NASA more time until the Commercial Crew launch is complete.

Some critics have argued that the commercial delays The crew program is due in part to NASA's holding companies to an extremely high safety standard. Both SpaceX and Boeing have to prove that there are only 1 in 270 chances that their vehicles will fail and crew members will be on board. In comparison, the space shuttle had a 1 to 80 chance. The GAO report doubted that SpaceX and Boeing could meet this standard, and Bridenstine noted that the requirement could change.

"It does not look like this time will be achieved," says Bridenstine. "Now what should it be at the end? I do not know. But we will have to make judgments and decisions."

In March, NASA announced that its long-term space space scout, James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), would not start 2019 according to plan , but instead should go to space in May 2020. The fault of the delay lies mainly with the telescope's main contractor, Northrop Grumman, which has caused damage to the vehicle during the construction process. And Bridenstine acknowledged that NASA is not pleased with Northrop's handling of the telescope. "It has not been good," Bridenstine said. "They know it. NASA knows. But we'll get it working."

In 2011, the congress restricted the JWST development budget to $ 8 billion. So legislators must re-approve the project now that it exceeds the cost decision. Bridenstine said he will do everything to make it happen. "When I testify about Congress, I will encourage them to be engaged in this mission," he said. "We have gone a long way now, and at this time, the science we will be coming back from James Webb is important enough for us to finish the project."


An artistic rendering of James Webb space telescope
Image: NASA

The delay of the telescope has had repercussions on NASA's astrophysics program. Trump proposed to cancel the space agency's next flagship spacecutter, WFIRST, to launch JWST, claiming that WFIRST is too expensive. Meanwhile, NASA has said researchers working on future space telescope ideas to limit the cost of their designs to between $ 3 billion and $ 5 billion. Bridenstine suggested that it be harder for NASA to make large budget space telescopes. "These types of flagship missions that take a large part of the astrophysics budget are a challenge," he said.

Democratic legislators strongly criticized Bridenstine during his nomination inquiry for previous statements he had made about climate change and claiming that the earth is no longer warming. Since confirmed, Bridenstine has made clear that his thoughts on climate change have evolved and that he believes that human activity causes the soil to warm up. Today, he noted that this development actually occurred before coming to NASA. As evidence, he claimed that when he was in the Home Affairs Committee, he constantly supported a study to find out how climate change affects national security.

At the round table today, Bridenstine also established its commitment to study the Earth's climate with NASA resources. He expressed his support for two forthcoming Earth Science missions in NASA, PACE and CLARREO, as President Donald Trump proposed to cancel in his budget application for 2019. He noted that these missions are considered to be priorities of the science community and he will continue to support them. "It seems to me that there are projects we must consider in the President's budget application to finance," he said.

A New York Times reporter Bridenstine asked his thoughts if a survey of Pew Research came out today, which found that most Americans believe that the Earth's science would be NASA's top priority over going to the Moon or Mars . Bridenstine said that NASA continues to make as many aspects of space exploration as possible. "I think NASA can lead when it comes to studying the Earth and the climate," he said. "I think it's important for NASA to continue its other assignments as well."

Then Bridenstine, a former Republican representative from Oklahoma, added that his mission in NASA is to keep the agency apolitical. "It's important that NASA is not involved in prescribing politics, but instead of doing science," he said. "That's what keeps our brand good. That's what keeps our credibility high."


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