18 March 2010
The Planetary Society blog posted this excerpt of some remarks made by Charlie Bolden on the 16th regarding NASA’s new plan. I was going to just select some key points, but really, it’s all pretty key, so I’m just going to copy shamelessly with some added emphasis:
“So let me just tell you a little more about this budget. Bear with me if you’re already knowledgeable here.
At the highest level, the President and his staff as well as my NASA senior leadership team closely reviewed the Augustine Committee report, and they came to the same realization the Committee concluded: The Constellation program was on an unsustainable trajectory. If we continued on our current course, at best we would have ended up flying a handful of astronauts to the moon sometime after 2030. But to accomplish even that limited task, we would have had to make even deeper cuts to the other parts of NASA’s budget, terminating support of the ISS early and decimating our science and aeronautics efforts. Further, we would have had no money to advance the state of the art in any of the technology areas that we need to enable us to do new things in space – no money to lower the cost of access to space, no money for closed- loop life support, no money for advanced propulsion technology, no money for radiation protection. The President recognized that what was truly needed for beyond LEO exploration was game-changing technologies; making the fundamental investments that will provide the foundation for the next half-century of American leadership in space exploration. In doing so, the President put forward what I believe to be the most authentically visionary policy for real human space exploration that we have ever had.
Some have argued that the Constellation program was the symbol of American leadership in space. I think they have been misled. An unsustainable program, as described in the Augustine Committee Report, with no funding planned to support the ISS beyond 2015 and no definitive, funded plans for a heavy lift launch vehicle necessary for exploration beyond low Earth orbit can hardly be considered a symbol of American leadership in space. U.S permanent human presence in space and our international human spaceflight partnership would have ended or been totally dependent on the Russians for the foreseeable future. That is not American leadership in my book. Under the new plan, however, we will ensure continuous American presence in space throughout this entire decade, re-establish a robust and competitive American launch industry, start a major heavy lift R&D program years earlier, and build a real technological foundation for sustainable beyond-LEO exploration. That to me is real leadership, and our international partners already recognize it.
The idea that a renewed focus on research and technology development is somehow foreign to NASA is just plain wrong. When NASA was first established, the Space Act mandated research as one of the agency’s central missions. Even the original Vision for Space Exploration intended to use the moon to test advanced technologies for exploring more distant destinations. But the development of Ares and Orion consumed these technology development plans. By 2009, there was little exploration funding available for anything besides the immediate launch vehicle and capsule programs. The president sought to correct that, and it required a bold course adjustment.
I often hear the criticism that under the President’s plan we have no destination. This is also not true. The ultimate destination in our solar system for our exploration efforts is Mars, but we don’t have the technological where-with-all to safely get humans there yet. In order to reach this destination, we need a robust research and development program to help us provide the capabilities that will make this goal attainable. When NASA’s transformative technology development and demonstration programs are underway, the commercial sector will be moving rapidly to develop crew and cargo capabilities for U.S. based transportation to LEO. Commercial providers have long carried our most valuable payloads to space for the nation and have been integral to every human spaceflight mission since the beginning. My guess is that the American workers who have successfully built and launched the Atlas V 20 times in a row would disagree that US commercial spaceflight is untried or untested.
The five companies to whom we awarded Recovery Act funds last month represent the expansion of the development of commercial crew capabilities. These are some of the large and small companies that will be developing transport systems as well as their supporting technologies. These technologies include such components as self- contained life support and rocket health monitoring systems that will be required in the future. You can also be certain that future stages of this competition will be fair to both the nation’s established aerospace companies, as well as the newer entrepreneurial entrants.
What we are trying to do is to develop multiple, redundant, made in America capability for access to LEO. So we’ll never again be dependent on just one provider.
And as these companies grow and succeed, the potential for spinoff companies and job growth we expect to be substantial.
Let me also add a few words on the issue of safety. These commercial providers are already deeply involved with us in human spaceflight, and the newer companies will have cargo flights under their belt before crewed flights are considered. They will all have to meet stringent safety requirements. I have lost friends in the pursuit of exploration, and I will not allow anything to go forward that I believe is unsafe.
The government has always pioneered in areas where the investment was simply too large for any one company, and then industry followed along once an initial path has been blazed. That’s what we’re doing here, and a full 50 years into the space age, we think it’s an idea whose time has come.”
Those are some pretty direct words coming from the NASA administrator. Of course, I don’t think they’ll have any effect on the die-hard opponents of the new plan, but I’m posting them here so that readers who just want to know what’s going on are aware of what NASA’s leadership has to say.