The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is holding a closed hearing on Wednesday with the Trump administration’s special envoy for arms control Marshall Billingslea, who is spearheading renegotiation of the New START Treaty, which limits the number of nuclear missiles and warheads the U.S. and Russia can maintain. The administration is seeking to broaden the treaty’s bilateral framework to include China, raising the specter an agreement will not be reached by the time the treaty expires in February. The push to revamp the treaty also comes as the administration has reportedly considered resuming explosive nuclear testing as a way to gain leverage in arms control negotiations. The idea of breaking the moratorium on explosive testing that the U.S. has observed since 1992 has drawn swift pushback from Democrats in Congress. A group of 82 Democrats led by Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) sent a letter to Trump on June 8 arguing the move would represent a “dangerous provocation” and is not necessary to maintain confidence in the reliability of the nuclear stockpile. Top Democratic members of the committees that oversee nuclear weapons programs also wrote to the Secretaries of Defense and Energy on June 8 requesting details about any plans to conduct an explosive test.
The National Academies is holding a two-day workshop this week to discuss the infrastructure required to meet baseline observational needs for monitoring space weather. The event is sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is responsible for forecasting and tracking space weather activity, such as coronal mass ejections that could induce damaging currents on Earth. It will feature presentations by officials across the agencies responsible for implementing the National Space Weather Strategy and Action Plan, first released by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy in 2015 and updated last March. Former NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher, now CEO of the small-satellite company GeoOptics, will lead sessions on space weather impacts and applications across industry sectors such as power distribution, satellite operation, commercial aviation, and human space exploration. Among the speakers is OSTP official Adam Balkcum, who will discuss R&D priorities for preparedness against artificial electromagnetic pulses, which can cause disturbances analogous to space weather. OSTP was tasked with coordinating federal efforts in this area through an executive order last March. In addition to the U.S. speakers, officials from Europe and Japan will provide updates on their own national space weather initiatives.
Rebecca Keiser, the outgoing head of the National Science Foundation’s Office of International Science and Engineering, is presenting on the agency’s research security initiatives at a meeting of the office’s advisory committee on Thursday. NSF appointed Keiser as its first chief of research security strategy and policy in March as part of the agency’s response to a JASON study it commissioned on the topic, and it is now searching for a replacement to take over her current role. NSF recently tightened up its requirements that applicants for agency grants disclose all sources of current and pending research support from domestic and foreign organizations, though it has delayed aspects of the new policy until October. At the meeting, the committee will also hear a presentation from its chair, Ohio State University science and technology policy professor Caroline Wagner, on the impact of COVID-19 on international collaborations. Wagner recently co-authored a study on changes in the degree of collaboration between scientists in the U.S. and China during the pandemic.
On Wednesday, the Brookings Institution is holding an event on how public investments in R&D and innovation policy initiatives can spur long-term economic growth and productivity. The event will begin with remarks by Paul Romer, an economist at New York University who was a co-recipient of the 2018 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his work on macroeconomic analysis of technological innovation. Coinciding with the event, Brookings will release three papers by economists on policies to spur innovation, address racial and gender disparities among entrepreneurs, and reform the patent system.
On June 10, thousands of scientists set aside research, classes, meetings, and other normal business to reflect on ways to combat anti-Black racism in science and society more broadly. A group of 15 physicists and astronomers organized a Strike For Black Lives as a way “to hit pause, to give Black academics a break and to give others an opportunity to reflect on their own complicity in anti-Black racism in academia and their local and global communities.” The effort garnered more than 5,000 pledged participants as of noon on the day of the strike. An overlapping group of scientist organizers also called on researchers to #ShutDownSTEM and #ShutDownAcademia on June 10 and share detailed plans for action using the hashtags on social media. AIP and several of its Member Societies were among the organizations that participated.
Last week, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced legislation in the House and Senate that seeks to boost domestic semiconductor production by channeling billions of dollars into manufacturing incentives and “new R&D streams.” Titled the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors (CHIPS) for America Act, the bill proposes allocating $3 billion to the National Science Foundation and $2 billion to the Department of Energy for basic semiconductor research, $2 billion to support the Electronics Resurgence Initiative at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and $5 billion to create an Advanced Packaging National Manufacturing Institute funded by the Department of Commerce. The bill text is not yet posted so it is unclear if it would recommend the amounts be allocated through the annual appropriations process, as is typical of policy legislation, or directly mandate the funding. The bill would also create a new advanced semiconductor manufacturing program at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and direct the interagency National Science and Technology Council to develop a national semiconductor research strategy. The bill’s sponsors say the increased investment is necessary to maintain U.S. leadership in microelectronics development as other nations, particularly China, invest heavily in advanced manufacturing capacity. Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Mark Warner (D-VA) introduced the bill in the Senate, while the House companion bill was introduced by Reps. Doris Matsui (D-CA) and Michael McCaul (R-TX), who chairs the House Republicans’ recently created China Task Force.
The Senate Armed Services Committee held a series of mostly closed-door meetings last week to finish its draft of the National Defense Authorization Act, an annual bill that updates policy for the Department of Defense and National Nuclear Security Administration. A summary of the legislation indicates that the committee’s proposals continue prior years’ focus on advanced technologies such as microelectronics, hypersonics, 5G telecommunications, artificial intelligence, and quantum information science, as well as on constructing policies to enhance DOD’s science and engineering workforce and protect sensitive technologies against exploitation by rival governments. The full text will be released in advance of floor debate when senators will offer amendments before the bill is put up for a vote. The House Armed Services Committee plans to consider its version of the legislation at the subcommittee level next week.
NASA Science Mission Directorate head Thomas Zurbuchen told the National Academies Space Studies Board last week it is certain the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will not meet its target launch date in March 2021. He said that while there have been no new setbacks with the ongoing testing of the flagship telescope, work slowdowns due to the pandemic have prevented it from staying on schedule. According to Zurbuchen, work is currently ramping back up and the agency plans to reevaluate the project’s launch date in July. Over the course of JWST’s development, its schedule has been pushed back repeatedly, most recently in 2018. Work on the Mars Perseverance rover, another flagship mission, has been prioritized during the pandemic and it remains on track to meet its launch window this summer. However, NASA Associate Administrator Steve Jurczyk told the board its target launch date has slipped by three days due to a “hiccup” involving its launch vehicle.
NASA announced on June 12 that it has named Kathy Lueders as the new head of its Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) Mission Directorate. Lueders has worked at NASA since 1992, most recently as the head of the directorate’s Commercial Crew program. That program chalked up a major success for the agency on May 30 when the company SpaceX launched two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station in the company’s Crew Dragon capsule using a Falcon 9 rocket. Within the past year, the previous two leaders of HEO, Bill Gerstenmaier and Doug Loverro, successively left the position amid issues related to NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to return astronauts to the lunar surface in 2024. Last week, HEO’s acting head Ken Bowersox told the joint meeting of the National Academies Space Studies Board and Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board he is concerned Congress has not been convinced to provide NASA with the billions of dollars in additional funding needed to meet the aggressive Artemis schedule. In a separate development, NASA Science Mission Directorate head Thomas Zurbuchen reported that Congress has given the go-ahead for the agency to transfer much of the biological and physical sciences research that is currently performed within HEO to his directorate.
NASA announced on June 11 that it has awarded the Pittsburgh-based company Astrobotic a $200 million task order to construct and operate a lunar lander that will convey the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) to the Moon in late 2023. NASA is designing VIPER to conduct a 100 day search for water ice in the lunar south pole region, which is also the focal point for later crewed missions the agency is planning. The mission represents a significant increase in payload size over other missions NASA is preparing to launch through its Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. Astrobotic is already scheduled to launch a smaller lander next year through CLPS and it is the first company to receive a second task order from the program.
The merits of using highly enriched uranium (HEU) to power space exploration technologies was vigorously debated at the American Nuclear Society’s annual meeting last week. The session was organized to solicit community input as the society develops a position statement on the use of low enriched uranium in space that will either “supplement or replace” its current statement expressing general support for the development of space nuclear power and propulsion systems. Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL), Alan Kuperman of the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project, and Princeton University physicist Frank von Hippel all argued that developing new HEU systems would go against longstanding U.S. efforts to minimize use of the material given the risk it could be stolen and used to create a nuclear weapon. Among those arguing in favor of developing HEU-powered systems was David Poston, chief reactor designer for NASA’s Kilopower Project, which envisions using HEU in reactors at crewed planetary bases. Poston maintained that HEU reactors have less risk of inadvertently going critical than those using LEU and have a power density advantage that confers unique capabilities. The American Nuclear Society plans to release a draft statement in October and finalize it by spring 2021.
Last week, the White House Ocean Policy Committee issued a national strategy for mapping and exploring the waters and seafloor in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone, which extends 200 nautical miles from shore of the U.S. and its territories. The strategy sets the goal of mapping deep water by 2030 and nearshore waters by 2040. Among specific actions it calls for are establishing standard mapping protocols, maturing emerging exploration technologies, and making data rapidly available. In parallel with the exploration strategy, the committee also announced the release of a 10 year strategy for mapping the coast of Alaska and a report that outlines actions aimed at improving “the clarity, consistency, and efficiency of the permitting and authorization processes associated with ocean exploration, mapping, and research activities.” The committee was directed to produce the national exploration and permitting by a November 2019 presidential memorandum and was co-chaired by White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director Kelvin Droegemeier and Council on Environmental Quality Chair Mary Neumayr.
Know of an upcoming science policy event either inside or outside the Beltway? Email us at [email protected].
Battelle is seeking a vice president for government relations and public policy to support its engagements with Congress. Battelle manages seven national laboratories on behalf of the Department of Energy and one for the Department of Homeland Security. Applicants must have a bachelor's degree or equivalent experience on Capitol Hill, with ten years of relevant experience.
The Association of Research Libraries is hiring a director of information policy to develop advocacy strategies in areas such as intellectual property, copyright, and research accessibility. Applicants must have a minimum of three to five years of relevant experience.
The National Institutes of Health is seeking input on how the agency can increase participation of women and individuals from groups traditionally underrepresented in the biomedical workforce within its Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative. Submissions are sought on topics including practices to enhance collaborations with institutions that serve underrepresented populations and promote diverse applicant pools and research teams. Submissions are due July 15.
For additional opportunities, please visit www.aip.org/fyi/opportunities. Know of an opportunity for scientists to engage in science policy? Email us at [email protected].