Thursday, February 25, 2010

Under Fire, Administrator Defends NASA’s New Direction

Published: February 25, 2010
WASHINGTON — Maj. Gen. Charles F. Bolden Jr., the administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, faced skeptical, sometimes hostile questioning on Thursday from members of a key House committee who said they opposed the Obama administration’s plans to revamp the nation’s human spaceflight program.
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Gerald Herbert/Associated Press
Maj. Gen. Charles F. Bolden Jr., NASA's administrator, testified Thursday on Capitol Hill about its proposed $19 billion budget.
General Bolden told the Committee on Science and Technology that the president’s $19 billion budget proposal for NASA — which would cancel the agency’s program to send astronauts back to the Moon, invest in new space technologies and turn to commercial companies for transportation beyond low-Earth orbit — would provide a “more affordable and more sustainable” approach to space exploration.
But the committee’s chairman, Representative Bart Gordon, Democrat of Tennessee, said the proposal represented “a radical change” and “has raised as many questions as it has answered.”
It was the second time in two days that General Bolden had sought to defend the administration’s plans. On Wednesday, he appeared before the Senate Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Space. In addition, John P. Holdren, the president’s science adviser, faced a number of barbed comments and questions at two other hearings Wednesday.
Notably, those speaking out against the changes are not just members of Congress representing Alabama, Florida and Texas — the homes of the NASA centers that would be most directly affected by the cancellation of the rockets and spacecraft that make up the current program, known as Constellation.
“I was against privatization in the Bush administration,” Representative David Wu, Democrat of Oregon, said at Thursday’s session. “I am against privatization in the Obama administration.”
Mr. Wu told General Bolden that he doubted there was much profit for commercial companies beyond the NASA business. “I would encourage the administration and your agency to consider whether this is premature, whether this is wise and whether this dooms us to a future where there are no Americans in space, or at least the dominant language in space is not English,” Mr. Wu said.
NASA has spent $9 billion and five years working on Constellation, and the budget proposal allocates an additional $2.5 billion for canceling the current contracts. General Bolden acknowledged to the House committee that the space agency was still compiling the actual costs.
Representative Lincoln Davis, Democrat of Tennessee, said he had also yet to be convinced of the administration’s arguments.
“Until we have more discussions, I will be one advocate for continuing the program that we have,” Mr. Davis said. “You must convince me that the vision that I’m not seeing, that you have, that you’re proposing, is better than Constellation.”
Mr. Gordon praised aspects of the budget, like increased financing for science and next-generation technologies, but expressed reservations about turning over the launching of astronauts to the private sector. He said he was concerned that the federal government would end up bailing out the private companies because they were “too important to fail.”
General Bolden responded that NASA had not conducted market surveys on the viability of commercial space companies. “I am depending upon surveys and on information that has come from the industry itself,” he said.
Mr. Gordon said that was not an acceptable answer. “This is a little bit like the fox looking after the henhouse,” he said. “Certainly NASA needs to look into this.”
Many of the members in attendance also criticized the lack of details in the budget proposal. General Bolden apologized repeatedly for not briefing members of Congress before the budget was announced Feb. 1, and for delays in providing more information.
As much as the members of Congress disliked the proposed changes, it is also unlikely that Congress will decide to provide the money to continue the current Constellation program.
Dr. Holdren, in testimony to the House science committee a day earlier, pointed to a blue-ribbon panel last year that concluded that the Constellation program needed $45 billion to $60 billion from 2010 to 2020 to succeed.
Dr. Holdren said the revamped human spaceflight program could achieve its goals “sooner, faster, safer and cheaper than what could realistically have been achieved under the old approach.”
On Wednesday, Senator Bill Nelson, Democrat of Florida and chairman of the Senate subcommittee on space, suggested the idea of using test flights of the Ares I — never referring to it by name, but instead calling it Rocket X — as a backup to the commercial efforts and to maintain portions of the current NASA work force.
However, that would essentially continue the work of Constellation under another name and continue NASA’s conundrum of how to achieve all of its mandates with limited money.

US to auction airwaves, propose public safety plan

* Auction could start early 2011
* FCC to seek up to $16 bln fund public safety project
* Public safety could access entire 700 megahertz band
WASHINGTON, Feb 25 (Reuters) - A segment of the airwaves that failed to garner enough bids during the 2008 spectrum auction will be offered to commercial carriers possibly early next year, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission said on Thursday.
The segment, called the D-block, is part of the 700 megahertz band of the spectrum that raised about $19 billion for the U.S. government from auctions to carriers in 2008; but the D-Block failed to attract enough bids because carriers did not like some of the conditions for use.
The opening of the D-block could be welcome news for smaller carriers such as T-Mobile, the U.S. unit of Deutsche Telekom AG (DTEGn.DE), seeking to acquire more spectrum to better compete with powerhouses AT&T Inc (T.N) and Verizon Wireless, a venture of Verizon Communications Inc (VZ.N) (VZ.N) and Vodafone Group Plc (VOD.L) (VOD.L).
By deciding what to do with the D-Block, the FCC can move forward with building a nationwide wireless communications system for police, ambulances and firefighters, as well as U.S. and state agencies including the FCC and the Department of Homeland Security, to deal with disasters and emergencies.
Jamie Barnett, chief of the FCC Public Safety & Homeland Security Bureau, said the plan is to also allow public safety workers access to the entire 700 megahertz band when necessary, and carriers which hold licenses in that band will be compensated accordingly.
FCC officials said they will ask Congress to fund the emergency preparedness network, which could cost between $12 billion and $16 billion to build and operate over a period of 10 years.
"The private sector simply is not going to build a nationwide, state-of-the-art, interoperable broadband network for public safety on its own dime," FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said at a briefing with reporters.
Public safety workers have already been allocated one-eighth of the 700 megahertz band of the spectrum, which was vacated by the broadcasters during the digital television transition. That portion could be developed under a public-private partnership.
Genachowski said the plan includes creating an Emergency Response Interoperability Center at the FCC to establish better communications among the array of emergency workers, including hospitals.
Plans to auction the airwaves and establish an emergency network in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks will be part of recommendations to be made in the National Broadband Plan the FCC will release next month.
The plan will also propose reallocating spectrum, including some held by broadcasters, to wireless companies anticipating a shortage, as more Americans surf the Internet on their mobile devices.
The aim of the national blueprint, which is expected to make short- and long-term recommendations, is to help all Americans get access to broadband and establish very fast Internet speeds in most American households by 2020.
Some portions of the broadband plan may need congressional approval. (Reporting by John Poirier, editing by Gerald E. McCormick)

Microsoft Uses Legal System to Combat Botnet

Microsoft moved the battle against spam-distributing botnets from cyberspace to the court room, winning a temporary restraining order shutting down nearly 300 domains thought to make up the command and control structure for the vast Waledac botnet.
Microsoft turned to the legal system to fight the online threat of 
botnets.The restraining order was granted by a US federal judge in secret--a critical element of Microsoft's plan, dubbed 'Operation b49'. By shutting down the command and control domains for Waledac without alerting the bad guys first, Microsoft was able to essentially decapitate the botnet--severing the compromised bots from the brains of the operation.
Botnets have grown to be one of the biggest online threats currently. Estimates suggest that tens of millions of PC's around the world are compromised by some bot malware, and are lying dormant awaiting instructions from the botherder--the person behind the botnet.
Stopping Spam
There are some who question whether the legal system is an effective tool against botnets, or whether Operation b49 has any hope of long term success.
Randy Abrams, director of technical education for ESET, is not one of those people. "This is wonderful! This causes more work for the gang which means it costs them more to commit their crimes."
"Any action against botnets is a good thing," agrees Qualys CTO Wolfgang Kandek.
I agree that any action against a botnet is a good thing, but the primary goal behind Microsoft's innovative two-pronged attack to shut down Waledac was to cut off a major source of spam. Qualys' Kandek says that Operation b49 will have some impact on spam, but that "Waledac is not one of the major spam sources."
"The real measurement is not how much spam this reduces, but rather if this type of action becomes another tool to combat the problem," suggests Abrams. "The more approaches that can effectively be used, the better the war can be fought. This may well be a step toward an effective blended attack against botnets."
Order in the Court
Generally speaking, laws themselves are not a deterrent for cyber-attacks or malware. Those who execute attacks and develop malware already know they're breaking the law, and obviously don't care. If they had a moral compass and ethical framework to comply with the laws, they wouldn't be creating botnets to begin with.
This is a different sort of approach though. Microsoft didn't seek to criminally charge the botnet developer, or sue for damages in civil court. It sought an ex parte restraining order to shut down the operation from within.
Randy Abrams explains "Court orders are one attack vector. I think this is an important development and may be used more frequently, it isn't a panacea, but it is a weapon that causes disruption and helps in the battle."
Court orders are a viable method of combating botnets according to Kandek as well. "Yes, but we are still in the early stages to see what legal methods apply and how legislation will have to be adapted to the new realities of the international operations of botnet operators."
Have to Start Somewhere
There are pros and cons to Microsoft's approach with Operation b49, but doing something is better than doing nothing, and you have to start somewhere.
Abrams notes "The pro is that it exposes a flank of the enemy. The con is that going through courts can be time consuming. There may be ways to streamline the process going forward and Microsoft has the legal resources to do this well."
"There are no botnet nukes. Fundamentally such a weapon would have unacceptable collateral damage. This is a battle that will require an extensive arsenal of conventional weapons and innovative strategies. Trial and error will be part of the process. Court orders and domain take downs are essential weapons to have in the arsenal," concludes Abrams.
Kandek sums up "I only see positive effects, we need better publicity on botnet penetration and the damages associated with it."


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