OVERNIGHT TECH: Senators praise NASA plan for long-distance rocket

THE LEDE: NASA unveiled its ambitious plan on Wednesday for a new $35 billion rocket program that is designed to eventually carry astronauts to Mars, after months of delay as lawmakers and administration officials haggled over the project's price tag. The first launch of the Space Launch System, which will rely on a liquid hydrogen and oxygen fuel system, is planned for 2017. Several of NASA's chief supporters in the Senate hailed the announcement.

REACTIONS:

• “NASA’s design for a new launch system into space will lead to safer and more distant exploration than we’ve ever had before. I will follow closely NASA’s progress on this new launch system as well as future missions — missions to advance scientific discovery and pursue human exploration in a new and sustainable way." 

— Senate Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.)

• “The vehicle concept and design being formally announced today is consistent with the design and development approach that was directed by the NASA Authorization Act. Because of the delays in announcing this design, it is imperative that we work with NASA to assure that the new Space Launch System is pursued without further losses of time and efficiency, while relying on NASA’s world-class engineers and designers to continue U.S. leadership in space exploration.” 

— Senate Commerce ranking member Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas)

• “This is the biggest thing for space exploration in decades. The goal is to fly humans safely beyond low-Earth orbit and deep into outer space where we can not only survive, but one day also live.” 

— Senate Science and Space Subcommittee Chairman Bill Nelson (D-Fla.)

•  “This decision provides some certainty for NASA employees as we work to retain the best and brightest workers who have the experience to take us further into space.” 

— Science and Space Subcommittee ranking member John Boozman (R-Ark.)

Lawmakers say investor visa could create tech jobs: Lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee's Immigration subpanel praised two visa programs at a hearing Wednesday they said could create thousands of jobs in the United States. The proposals are backed by many tech companies, which rely heavily on foreign investors and entrepreneurs.

The EB-5 investor visa program aims to attract foreign investment to the U.S. but is set to expire in 2012, while the start-up visa program is part of a bill from Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and would encourage entrepreneurs to start their businesses in the U.S.

Federal officials warn cyberthreat is mounting against the financial industry: Several senior federal officials told a House Financial Services subcommittee that digital attacks against financial instutitions are more sophisticated and broader in scope, making the current security precautions insufficient for the level of the threat facing most firms.

Most witnesses emphasized the need to increase information-sharing between the government and private sector and advocated for legislation that would ease that process. But Electronic Privacy Information Center Executive Director Marc Rotenberg said one cause of the rise in identity theft is financial firms' over-reliance on Social Security numbers as a form of identification.

FCC starts public test of white spaces database: The Federal Communications Commission announced Wednesday it will begin testing a new database system that allows devices to take advantage of the unused spectrum between television channels, known as white spaces. The commission voted to approve the use of white spaces a year ago in hopes of spawning a new wave of wireless innovation, such as Wi-Fi networks capable of covering significantly larger areas.


ON TAP THURSDAY:

Preview: E-Verify opposition grows on all sides. Thursday's House Judiciary Committee markup of Chairman Lamar Smith's (R-Texas) bill to make it mandatory for all employers to check the legal status of new hires using the Department of Homeland Security's E-Verify system faces growing opposition from civil libertarians, privacy advocates and agricultural business groups concerned about the impact on their sector. The ACLU still contends the program boasts an unacceptable error rate and raises serious privacy concerns, particularly a provision in Smith's bill that would allow E-Verify to be used for other purposes related to safeguarding the nation's critical infrastructure.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to mark up a series of privacy and data breach notification bills on Thursday designed to amalgamate the patchwork of state laws. Some of the legislation calls for stiff penalties against firms that don't protect consumer data, and all the bills require firms to notify consumers when their data has been breached.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee's Manufacturing subpanel will examine the impact and burden of European Union Internet privacy regulations Thursday at an 11 a.m. hearing.

Obama to sign patent reform bill on Friday: President Obama will sign the America Invents Act into law on Friday at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Va. The school has consistently been rated among the top public high schools in the nation.


ICYMI:

Google hired former George W. Bush spokesman Rob Saliterman to manage outreach to GOP campaigns.

Potential suitors are prepping bids for Yahoo.

The head of the union representing AT&T workers thinks the Department of Justice's lawsuit to block the deal could backfire on Democrats.