The Week of January 27, 2020 – FYI: Science Policy News

House Aiming Bipartisan Broadside at NASA’s Lunar Plans

On Wednesday, the House Science Committee’s Space Subcommittee will consider a bipartisan NASA policy bill that committee leaders introduced late last week. If enacted in its current form, the legislation would substantially alter the agency’s Artemis lunar exploration program. In particular, it would push back the target date for a crewed landing from 2024 to as late as 2028 and deprioritize efforts to establish a sustained lunar presence and exploit lunar resources. Instead, it would require NASA to use the Moon primarily as a stepping stone toward a crewed mission that would orbit Mars by 2033. NASA’s current plans do call for eventual crewed Mars exploration, and in statements the bill’s Republican sponsors emphasized its continuities with existing policy. Committee Democrats, though, have questioned the depth of NASA’s focus on Mars in its efforts to accelerate a lunar return. The House bill also includes extensive direction for science programs. For example, rather than stipulating that the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope adhere to a $3.2 billion cost cap, the bill simply instructs NASA to abide by the baseline plan it establishes after the upcoming mission confirmation review. It also directs NASA to develop plans for undertaking a Mars sample return mission and maintaining its Mars-orbiting communications infrastructure into the 2040s. Extensive negotiations are likely to precede the enactment of any legislation as a substantially different NASA policy bill has already advanced out of committee in the Senate.

Hearing to Examine US Standing in ‘Critical’ Technology Areas

On Wednesday, the House Science Committee will hold a hearing titled, “Losing Ground: U.S. Competitiveness in Critical Technologies.” The witnesses are former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who founded a research and technology philanthropic initiative and currently chairs the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence and the Defense Innovation Board; Georgia Tech Vice President for Research Chaouki Abdallah; and National Science Board Chair Diane Souvaine. The board recently released its biennial Science and Engineering Indicators report that benchmarks U.S. R&D investments and STEM workforce trends relative to those of other countries. The report documents the increasingly multipolar state of global R&D leadership, particularly as China continues to rapidly increase its investments. The National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence has released an interim report on U.S. competitiveness in AI and is expected to release its final report in March.

Top Physicists to Discuss International Ties, US–China Tensions

On Thursday, the American Physical Society is holding an International Leadership Forum in Washington, D.C., that will feature panel discussions about international collaboration and competition in science. A press invitation for the event notes that the tensions between international participation in U.S. research and concerns over the exploitation of the American research enterprise by the Chinese government will be part of the agenda. Among the keynote speakers is physicist and former Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who has expressed deep concerns that recent government efforts to crack down on academic espionage is fomenting bias against Chinese scientists and stifling international collaborations. Other panelists include the director of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, the director of Canada’s national particle accelerator laboratory, the director of South Africa’s Square Kilometer Array, the president of the European Physical Society, the principal scientific adviser to the government of India, and a former director of Los Alamos National Lab.

Veterans in STEM Bill Up for House Vote

The House will vote Monday on the version of the Supporting Veterans in STEM Careers Act that the Senate passed by unanimous consent last month. The bill would require the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to establish an interagency working group to coordinate federal programs and policies for transitioning veterans and military spouses into STEM careers. It would also direct the National Science Foundation to develop a plan for enhancing outreach to veterans. If passed by the House, the bill will be sent to President Trump for his signature. The House passed an earlier version of the bill by voice vote last February.

Lawmakers Launching Women in STEM Caucus

The new Congressional Women in STEM Caucus is holding a launch event on Wednesday. The caucus will seek to “bring public and congressional awareness to policies, programs, and initiatives that support women in STEM fields” and is co-chaired by Reps. Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA), Haley Stevens (D-MI), and Jackie Walorski (R-IN). The launch event will feature a panel discussion with Melanie Kornides, a nursing professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and Kelly Mack, vice president for undergraduate STEM education at the Association of American Colleges and Universities and president of the Society of STEM Women of Color. 

Study to Review Radioactive Source Alternatives

The National Academies is holding a kickoff meeting on Thursday and Friday for a new study that will survey applications of high-risk radionuclides in research, medicine, industry, and commerce and review the status of nonradioactive alternatives. The study will update a 2008 report and inform the activities of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Office of Radiological Security. At the meeting, members of the study committee will hear briefings from experts from both inside and outside the government, including two representatives of the study’s sponsor, Sandia National Laboratories. The study chair is Bonnie Jenkins, who was the State Department’s coordinator for threat reduction programs from 2009 to 2017 and is the executive director of Women of Color Advancing Peace, Security, and Conflict Transformation.

PCAST Holding Joint Meeting With National Science Board

The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology will convene next Monday and Tuesday for its second meeting, which will be held partially in tandem with the National Science Board’s winter meeting. The council will discuss the three areas that White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director Kelvin Droegemeier has asked it to focus on: advancing “Industries of the Future,” bolstering the U.S. STEM workforce, and better engaging federal laboratories in the U.S. research enterprise. The council will also discuss the new edition of the National Science Board’s Science and Engineering Indicators and the board’s Vision 2030 strategic planning effort. Over the rest of this year, PCAST is planning to develop recommendations with the aim of making immediate contributions to national policy. However, with only nine out of an expected 16 appointees on board, the council remains short-handed more than three months after President Trump officially reconstituted it.


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