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Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA), ranking member of the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee, has posted the text of correspondence he had about the President's proposal to terminate the Constellation program with Burt Rutan and several former astronauts and NASA officials. He quoted from the letters and emails in his statement to the CJS subcommittee during a hearing on Wednesday with Presidential Science Adviser John Holdren. They are available on the Congressman's website and include correspondence with:
- Burt Rutan, Scaled Composites, perhaps best known today as the designer of SpaceShipOne, winner of the Ansari X-Prize
- Former astronauts Walter Cunningham, Charlie Duke, and Harrison Schmitt (also a former U.S. Senator)
- Former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin and former Johnson Space Center Director Chris Kraft
Burt Rutan, the highly respected, outspoken aerospace engineer who designed SpaceShipOne and other innovative aerospace vehicles, wrote a letter to Congressman Frank Wolf (posted on the Congressman's website) widely interpreted as being critical of President Obama's decision to terminate the Constellation program and instead rely on commercial companies to send NASA astronauts to low Earth orbit. Concerned about how the letter is being characterized in the press, Mr. Rutan wrote some clarifying comments that are posted on Rob Coppinger's Hyperbola blog.
It appears that Mr. Rutan wants to avoid upsetting those who advocate commercial crew while at the same time warning against America abandoning its leadership in human space flight by taking NASA out of the picture. His emphasis in both missives is that NASA should focus on research leading to technical breakthroughs (which suggests that he should support the President's proposal), but that the United States needs to remain in the forefront of human space exploration (which it might not under the President's proposal). Mr. Rutan's stature in the aerospace community gives his voice considerable weight, particularly for those advocating commercial space activities. His letter to Congressman Wolf received a lot of attention precisely because it was viewed as supporting a government-run program over a commercial program.
The number of jobs that will be lost if Congress goes along with President Obama's plan to cancel the Constellation program -- on top of terminating the space shuttle -- has not been officially revealed by NASA, but one county that will be hard-hit is estimating 23,000 in its community alone.
NASA says only that while it does not plan to cut its own civil servant workforce, there will be job losses for contractors but they do not yet know how many. One hard-hit community will be the area around Kennedy Space Center, Florida, especially Brevard County. Florida Today reports that the county's workforce president now estimates the loss of 23,000 jobs: 9,000 direct jobs (7,000 from shuttle termination, the remainder if Constellation "and other initiatives" in the FY2011 budget request are cancelled), and 14,000 indirect jobs from area businesses such as restaurants, hotels, etc.
The newspaper reported an estimate of 2,400 jobs that could be gained if potential commercial crew companies could be "lured" to Brevard County, but also quoted a representative of United Space Alliance as warning that Florida should not assume it has a "birthright" to human spaceflight, that companies would choose where to conduct launches based on market forces. NASA Administrator Bolden asserted in recent testimony to Congress that the agency expects commercial space to be a source of new jobs: "An enhanced U.S. commercial space industry will create new high-tech jobs, leverage private sector capabilities and energy in this area, and spawn other businesses and commercial opportunities, which will spur growth in our Nation's economy."
The effect on jobs and the aerospace workforce as a whole has been a major topic of questioning in Congress about the President's new plan for NASA.
Aaron Cohen, 79, who served the space program tirelessly in NASA, academia and the private sector, passed away yesterday according to a press release from NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC). Mr. Cohen was JSC Director from1986-1993, a term that included recovering from the 1986 space shuttle Challenger tragedy. He was a highly respected NASA engineer and manager, who took his skills to Texas A&M University, his alma mater, after retiring from NASA in 1993. He also was a technical adviser to Kistler Aerospace -- which almost succeeded in building a commercial reusable space launch vehicle -- when that company was getting off the ground in the 1990s. According to the NASA statement, he died after a lengthy illness.
At a House Science and Technology hearing yesterday morning, Presidential Science Adviser John Holdren said "we are certainly not giving up in deep space," with respect to the proposed changes to the human spaceflight program in the FY2011 budget request.
Short of actually naming Mars as the next destination for human spaceflight (as NASA Administrator Bolden did in a Senate hearing just hours later), Dr. Holdren fended off criticisms that the proposal has no plan for humans to explore space beyond low Earth orbit by saying that "the goal that we have is to take U.S. astronauts into deep space in a way that is safe [and] affordable - in a way that gets them to an array of deep space destinations not just to a particular one, in a particular moment."
The NASA budget came under sharp criticism during the hearing. "I've never been more concerned with the future of human spaceflight" said Ranking Member Ralph Hall (R-TX). He also criticized changes to the NPOESS program as similarly reflecting a policy shift with no analysis - both examples of what he described as "a troubled pattern." Representative Paul Broun (R-GA) for his part included the decision to "scuttle the nation's human spaceflight program" as an example of what he called a demonstration of a "tremendous amount of arrogance, ignorance, and incompetence" by the Administration. Representative Suzanne Kosmas (D-FL) said that the lack of "concrete plans" threatens the existence of the skilled aerospace workforce and criticized the lack of specificity of the President's proposal for NASA and for dealing with this issue. Dr. Holdren assured her that there will be more details forthcoming on how the Administration will mitigate job loss in this sector.
Dr. Holdren stood by the proposal saying that the budget describes "a science-and-technology-centered restructuring" for NASA, allowing the agency to "do things in space that are more useful and more exciting" than going back to the Moon. Ranking Member Hall agreed, saying "I don't care to go to the Moon until our people can go to the grocery store; now's not the time to do that" but admonished the decision to cancel the Constellation program. Dr. Holdren replied that the proposal acknowledges the Augustine Committee's findings that the Constellation program was unexecutable, and said "what we think we are proposing is a program that has a better chance of success than Constellation of delivering what the American people want and expect of their program...in a budget we can afford."
On a markedly different note, Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) congratulated the Administration "for taking a courageous step" and "an honest approach to look at what NASA is all about." Not bemoaning the loss of Constellation he said he was "pleased that this Administration is willing to stand up to the plate" and that the proposal shows that Constellation is not the only way to get into space.
For a second day in a row, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden faced congressional authorizers largely unhappy with the new direction of the U.S. human space flight program. Yesterday he testified before the Senate Commerce subcommittee that authorizes NASA activities; today he appeared before the full House Science and Technology Committee.
In both hearings, some committee members opened the door for Bolden to distance himself from the decision to cancel Constellation, but Bolden insisted that he was deeply involved in the discussions. At one point, he emphatically stated that "we did not frivolously arrive at this budget." He declined to provide information on the pre-decisional meetings despite repeated attempts by committee members to obtain details on the process and people involved.
Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) was the only Member at today's hearing who expressed support for the decision to rely on the commercial sector to provide commercial human space flight services ("commercial crew") to low Earth orbit in the future. Many other Members, Democrats and Republicans, expressed deep skepticism about the ability of commercial companies to provide such services without considerable government investments. Committee chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) asked if the proposal would not make the companies offering such services "too important to fail" - analogous to the "too big to fail" financial institutions the government is now bailing out. Is there really a non-government market for human space flight, or will these companies become "wards of the state," he asked.
Bolden replied that NASA had not performed any of its own market analyses, relying on those of the industry. Rep. Gordon called that "the fox guarding the chicken house" and chided Bolden for an "unsatisfactory" answer. More broadly, Bolden defended the commercial crew concept by reminding Members that in the early 1980s NASA sought to turn operation of the space shuttle over to a commercial provider. The 1986 space shuttle Challenger tragedy ended those efforts, at least in part because the Reagan Administration decided that human lives no longer would be risked to launch satellites that could as easily be launched on rockets, consequently making the shuttle considerably less attractive as a commercial venture. "What we're trying to do today, we were trying to do then," he said.
The impact on jobs and the aerospace workforce were a consistent focus of questioning. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) challenged the assertion that the President and NASA want to encourage children to study math and science because they were giving "pink slips" to the very people who had invested their lives in pursuing those careers: "This is not a program for a bold new path, it's more like managing America's decline."
The lack of a specific destination beyond low Earth orbit in the President's new plan was another bone of contention as it was yesterday. In both cases Bolden stated that in his mind Mars is the ultimate destination, although today he did not repeat - perhaps because he was not directly asked - that he had approval from the White House to state that on behalf of the Administration.
Several Members pointed to concerns about the United States losing its leadership in human space flight. Rep. Parker Griffith (R-AL) stressed that "It's not about jobs. The heart and soul of America is NASA. If we do anything, anything, to detract from that, we're gong to lose and we can't afford to lose."
A SpacePolicyOnline.com summary of the hearing will be posted soon.
At a Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing yesterday, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden told subcommittee chairman Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) that his "superiors" agree that the eventual goal of NASA's human space flight program is sending humans to Mars. Previously, Gen. Bolden has said that is his personal view, but this is the first time that he indicated White House agreement. Senator Nelson replied that Gen. Bolden had "made some news" with that assertion.
However, Gen. Bolden's statement falls short of explicitly saying that human exploration of Mars is President Obama's goal. In his opening statement, Gen. Bolden stated that the budget supports development of technologies to enable astronauts to "meaningfully explore the moon, asteroids, and eventually Mars -- and Mars is what I believe to be the ultimate destination for human exploration in our solar system, at least under my administration." Later, Senator Nelson asked if he had approval from his superiors to make that statement and Gen. Bolden replied that his remarks had gone through "every wicket" at the White House so "I assume I have approval to say that." The exchange came after Senator Nelson said in his opening statement that NASA's FY2011 budget request "gave the perception that the President was killing the manned space program" and that the President needs to "clearly state what [the] goal is -- to go to Mars."
Gen. Bolden went on to say "I can't provide a date certain for the first human mission to Mars," but that Mars will be the focus of NASA's technology development. He cautioned, however, that "I don't want 7th graders to think about Mars," but to be inspired with ongoing NASA activities such as the continuation of the International Space Station (ISS). Ranking Member Senator David Vitter (R-LA) said that he disagrees -- he wants young people to think about Mars because it will inspire them and his 7th graders would find the ISS "to use their language, 'so last week.'" Gen. Bolden countered by saying that "I think you underestimate your kids" and that he hoped that programs like the ISS would keep children interested in staying in school, working hard, and eventually going to Mars.
Senator Vitter said he would fight with all his energy to defeat the "waste of time and money " that would go into funding this "radical vision." Chairman Nelson told him that "we're going to have a chance, Senator Vitter, to perfect this budget....I remind you that the President proposes and the Congress disposes."
Gen. Bolden was followed by a panel of four "outside witnesses": former astronaut Robert "Hoot" Gibson, former Lockheed Martin executive Tom Young, journalist Miles O'Brien, and aerospace engineer Michael Snyder. A SpacePolicyOnline.com summary of the hearing will be available soon.
NASA has announced a modest reorganization. Details are in this letter from NASA Administrator Bolden to NASA officials.
UPDATE: The shuttle landed successfully.
ORIGNAL STORY: Weather has cooperated and STS-130 (Endeavour) has fired its descent engines for a landing at Kennedy Space Center at 10:20 pm tonight (Sunday).
The finer details of NASA's FY2011 budget request are now available on NASA's budget website. These traditional "budget books" usually accompany the annual announcement of the President's new budget on the first Monday in February, but NASA's were delayed this year probably because of the significant changes they represent.
Events of Interest
- Satellite 2014, March 10-13, 2014, Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Washington, DC
- Space Policy & History Forum Featuring Anatoly Zak on Russia's Space Program, March 10, 2014, National Air & Space Museum, Washington, DC (RSVP is REQUIRED in advance to enter this area of the museum), 4:00 pm ET
- Soyuz TMA-10M landing, March 10, 2014, Kazakhstan, 11:24 pm ET (NASA TV landing coverage begins at 10:15 pm ET)
- WSBR Silent Auction and Luncheon Featuring Tom Ingersoll, Skybox Imaging, March 11, 2014, Washington Convention Center (in conjunction with Satellite 2014), 11:30 am - 1:30 pm ET
- ISU-DC Space Café Featuring Avascent's Royce Dalby, March 11, 2014, The Science Club, Washington, DC, 7:00 pm ET
- NAC Planetary Sci Sbcmte, March 12, 2014, NASA HQ, Washington, DC, 8:30 am - 4:30 pm ET
- SASC Hrg on Military Space Programs, March 12, 2014, 222 Russell Senate Office Building, 2:30 pm ET
- House Approps Defense Sbcmte Hrg on FY2015 DOD Budget Req, March 13, 2014, 2359 Rayburn House Office Building, 10:00 am ET
- HASC Hrg on FY2015 Budget Request for the Air Force, March 14, 2014, 2118 Rayburn House Office Building, 9:00 am ET
Full calendar of future events (with filters)-click here »
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