Keith Cowing: January 2010 Archives

Keith's note: Places where you can expect to hear Charlie Bolden, Lori Garver, and others spell out what NASA's budget means - and what the agency will and will not be doing with that budget:

Keith's update: Late Sunday night NASA announced that the NASA budget press conference slated for 3:00 pm EST on Monday has been cancelled in favor of a dial-in media telecon at 12:30 pm EST. Instead of the original plan to give the media 2.5 hrs to review budget info before the press conference it would seem they will have no time to review it - so don't expect much in the way of informed questions - on a telecon certain to be overcrowded. According to NASA: "To dial into the news conference, news media representatives should call: 800-857-5728 or 1-630-395-0025 and use the pass code "NASA". A limited number of phone lines are available, so people are encouraged to call early. Replays of the teleconference will be available approximately one hour after the call ends. To listen to a replay, call: 866-431-2903 or 203-369-0952."

- 1 Feb: OSTP 2011 Federal R&D Budget Briefing: OSTP officials brief media and "stakeholders" at the AAAS from 1:00 to 2:00 pm EST. Webcast (registration required). Lori Garver will be there. Budget materials will be online at OMB at this point.

- 2 Feb: NASA event at National Press Club: Event starts at 10:00 am EST. According to NASA "On Tuesday, Administrator Bolden, Dr. John Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, will introduce new commercial space pioneers, launching a game-changing way of developing technology to send humans to space." Watch it live on NASA TV

- 3 Feb: Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee - Hearing: Key Issues and Challenges Facing NASA: Views of the Agency's Watchdogs: 10:00 am EST - hearing runs for two hours. You can expect Subcommittee Chair Rep. Giffords to pick up where she left off at a previous hearing wherein she will bash Norm Augustine and the Administration's plans to change the Constellation program - specifically Ares 1. ASAP Chair Adm. Dyer will be in agreement with Giffords for the most part but NASA OIG Martin will probably end up pointing to the OIG's previous work (and GAO's) which cast continual doubt about the pace and maturity of the Constellation program - as implemented by NASA.

- 11 Feb: 13th Annual FAA Commercial Space Transportation Conference 10-11 Feb: Bolden speaks from 8:00 - 8:45 am EST. This is the place, space fans, where the big picture will emerge. Hopefully it will be on NASA TV

- 12 Feb: The State of the Agency: NASA Future Programs Presentation: All day. Don't bother to RSVP - there are no more seats available. Watch it on NASA TV. NASA is only allowing some media (Space News and Nature) into the event (where they can ask questions) while other publications/websites are not being allowed to send representatives. I am told this has to do with seating limits. Duh. No one seems to have planned for media. Oh well. These events are held every year and tend to be rather bland and dumbed down. Mostly its like a low key high school reunion where retirees get generic updates as to what the agency is doing. However, given that this event happens the day after the AST event, lots of questions will be floating around - so it may be a little more peppy than it would otherwise be.

- 18-19 Feb: NASA Advisory Council Meeting: You will certainly see additional detail presented by Bolden and senior staff at this meeting - i.e. charts to back up previous public comments. Media may manage to grab Bolden et al in the hallway.

- 17-20 Feb: Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference: Lori Garver speaks on Thursday, 18 February. Given the high amount of commercial interest and participation in this event and some exciting presentations by others, you can be certain that more detail on NASA's commercial plans will emerge one way or another.

And, of course, there will be leaks in between all of these events ;-)

Report: Obama Budget to Scrub Moon Mission, CBS News

"Instead of blasting off to the moon, NASA's hopes for a manned mission there have been blasted to pieces, sources in the White House, Congress and NASA tell the Orlando Sentinel."

White House won't fund NASA moon program, Orlando Sentinel via LA Times

"When the White House releases its budget proposal Monday, there will be no money for the Constellation program that was to return humans to the moon by 2020. The Ares I rocket that was to replace the space shuttle to ferry humans to space will be gone, along with money for the Ares V cargo rocket that was to launch the fuel and supplies needed to return to the moon. There will be no lunar landers, no moon bases. "We certainly don't need to go back to the moon," one administration official said."

NASA to Review Human Spaceflight, NY Times

"Michael D. Griffin, the former NASA administrator who oversaw the creation of Constellation and remains a staunch defender, said that would be a mistake. "I can't imagine the situation where the United States doesn't want to have end-to-end capability to reach the lunar surface," Dr. Griffin said."

Flat budget, limited goals may be in NASA's future, Houston Chronicle

"Far from getting the $3 billion more each year that experts suggest NASA needs for meaningful human spaceflight, President Barack Obama is expected to offer little new money to the space agency when his budget is released Monday. Although there's no official word from the White House or NASA, space policy analysts and legislators say it's likely the space agency's budget will remain "flat" for the coming year, potentially leaving humans stuck in near-Earth orbit for the foreseeable future."

Keith's note: NASA has just spent more than half a decade telling Americans that we are all going back to the Moon - and why. In the process, billions of dollars have been spent. Children have grown up being told this again and again - just like my generation heard in the 1960s. Now this is being taken away from them. I can only imagine how my generation would have reacted. It is one thing to alter a plan, change rockets, etc. But it is quite another to abandon the plan altogether.

The ISS has great potential - much of it yet to be realized. But much of that untapped potential was preparing humans to go out into the solar system. Now those destinations have evaporated and have been replaced with the elusive and ill-defined "Flexible Path".

How is NASA going to explain this about face? Answer - they won't - because they can't. They are incapable of admitting mistakes or even stating the obvious. What I really want to see is how NASA attempts to explain this bait and switch to all of the students it has sought to inspire since the VSE was announced. A "Summer of Innovation" centered around a stale and contracting space program seems somewhat contradictory to me.

How will NASA - and the White House - explain the use of vast sums of taxpayer money to bail out the decisions of incompetent financial institutions on Wall Street and yet not be able to find a paltry fraction of that amount to bail out the future of space exploration that future Americans will benefit from - and participate in.

I just spent a few days wandering around Yosemite looking up at vast expanses of rock such as El Capitan - things that humans have surmounted - and yet still inspire later generations to attempt. Now I have to fly home and witness the slow motion dismemberment of NASA's human exploration program. You will pardon me if I fell like I have been whip lashed.

There are two options open to those who wish to explore the solar system - personally. One is to ignore NASA altogether and promote commercial space. The other is to totally overhaul NASA once and for all. Despite its collection of incredibly skilled and motivated people, NASA is also a bumbling behemoth that cannot get out of its own way. Personally, I think the best approach is to pursue both.

But something needs to change. Clearly the status quo has utterly failed and yet another generation is at risk of missing out on the chance to personally explore space.

It is my understanding that Charlie Bolden worked very, very hard on getting more for NASA. So the blame for these cutbacks should not be laid on his shoulders. He does have a chance, however, to use this opportunity to truly reconfigure the agency in response to this slap from the White House. The last time NASA was in this situation in the mid-1990s, its Administrator simply did not understand that his people were his greatest asset. Charlie Bolden does not have that character flaw.

NASA is simply going to have to do more with less. NASA has little choice at this point than to look for the silver lining in all of this. In so doing, Bolden's people - all of them - contractor, civil servants, and others - need to step up to the task of finding this silver lining - or get out of the way and find something else to do so that others can fix things.

Keith's update: This reader note says it all: "Tomorrow the President and Vice President will be together in Florida to announce they are awarding $2.5 billion (of the $8 billion federal dollars slated for similar projects) to build a high-speed rail system from the Tampa airport to Disney World. It will help people visit entertainment venues at Disney World (Space Mountain), Epcot (Spaceship Earth), Universal Studios (A Day at The Park with Barney)."

To be certain a job is a job - but I wonder how well these new jobs will offset the old jobs being lost in the KSC area. Will workers be able to move from one to another? I doubt it. Also, the fact that the Obama Administration seems to be more interested in moving tourists to see fantasy depictions of space exploration as opposed to doing the real thing speaks volumes. What sort of message is this sending?

Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee - Hearing: Key Issues and Challenges Facing NASA: Views of the Agency's Watchdogs

3 Feb 2010 Witnesses:

- Hon. Paul K. Martin, Inspector General, National Aeronautics and Space Administration
- Ms. Cristina T. Chaplain, Director, Acquisition and Sourcing Management, Government Accountability Office
- Vice Admiral Joseph W. Dyer [U.S. Navy, retired], Chair, Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, National

Keith's note: Hmm... Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, known Ares 1 hugger, who is anti-commercial spaceflight and an Augustine critic - and Joe Dyer (ditto) at the same hearing. Gee, I wonder what they will talk about ... There will be a NASA press conference to discuss the budget on 1 Feb and some sort of event at the National Press Club on 2 Feb. Rep. Giffords is holding her hearing on 3 Feb. Should make for some interesting news.

- Congressional Hearing on Safety, earlier post
- Too Close to NASA For Comfort?, earlier post
- Flying Air NASA, earlier post
- Congress Falls For Time Magazine's Ares Award Too, earlier post
- Chairman Gordon and Subcommittee Chairwoman Giffords Comment on Augustine Committee Report, earlier post
- Commercial Spaceflight Federation Takes Aim at ASAP's Report, earlier post

Budget Freeze Is Proposed, Wall Street Journal

"President Barack Obama intends to propose a three-year freeze in spending that accounts for one-sixth of the federal budget--a move meant to quell rising concern over the deficit but whose practical impact will be muted. To attack the $1.4 trillion deficit, the White House will propose limits on discretionary spending unrelated to the military, veterans, homeland security and international affairs, according to senior administration officials. Also untouched are big entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare."

Obama to propose freeze on government spending, Washington Post

"Under mounting pressure to rein in mammoth budget deficits, President Obama will propose in his State of the Union address a three-year freeze on federal spending that is not related to national security, a concession to public concern about government spending that could dramatically curtail Obama's legislative ambitions."

No $1B Budget Increase for NASA; Fate of Ares 1 Rocket Still Unclear, Space News

"NASA will not be getting the $1 billion budget boost civil space advocates had hoped to see when President Barack Obama sends his 2011 spending proposal to Congress Feb. 1, requiring the U.S. space agency to make even tougher than expected choices about the future of its manned space program, according to sources with close ties to the administration."

White House: Don't expect big NASA announcement, Orlando Sentinel

"Despite the decision not to hold a separate unveiling of Obama's vision, senior adviser David Axelrod said the president was "committed" to NASA and that his belief in space would be revealed with the agency's 2011 budget. Axelrod would not comment, however, on whether NASA would see an increase in its 2010 budget of $18.7 billion."

Keith's note: The recent loss of Ted Kennedy's Senate seat to a Republican and other political disappointments seem to be causing the White House to pull back on public commentary regarding a number of things - especially ones that do not have solid, unrelenting public (and political) support.

As is always the case with NASA, hope springs eternal that NASA will be mentioned in the State of The Union address. That would seem to be increasingly unlikely - as is the (once hoped for) prospect of a separate i.e. high profile stand alone event wherein the President laid out his plans for NASA. As such, come budget time, NASA will once again slip back into the weeds, fly under the radar, etc.

However, those who would automatically interpret such shyness in terms of rhetoric on the part of the White House as being indicative of lack of support for NASA might be surprised. The White House is about to disturb a whole new set of hornet nests as it attempts a paradigm shift in how America does things in space by seeking to truly commercialize human space flight to the ISS.

White House Decides to Outsource NASA Work, Wall Street Journal

"The White House has decided to begin funding private companies to carry NASA astronauts into space, but the proposal faces major political and budget hurdles, according to people familiar with the matter. The controversial proposal, expected to be included in the Obama administration's next budget, would open a new chapter in the U.S. space program. The goal is to set up a multiyear, multibillion-dollar initiative allowing private firms, including some start-ups, to compete to build and operate spacecraft capable of ferrying U.S. astronauts into orbit--and eventually deeper into the solar system."

Keith's note: Archived streaming video of suborbital scientists undergoing centrifuge training at NASTAR is now online here. Higher quality video will be posted shortly.

Moon rocks from first and last Apollo missions turn up in locked cabinet in Hawaii, AP

"Lenny Klompus, a spokesman for Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle, says the rocks were never actually missing. He says state employees knew the rocks were in a secured cabinet, but they didn't know which cabinet."

NASA LaRC Internal Memo: Let Your Voice Be Heard

"Over 500 of you responded to the Langley Story survey and we will shortly have some preliminary results. The next step is a series of focus groups to further define what kind of an organization we are and what prompts us to come to work each day."

Keith's note: One would assume that people are prompted to "come to work each day" because that is what you do when you have a "job" i.e. you go to work - each day.

Stadd In Court Part II

Ex-top NASA official charged in Mississippi, Houston Chronicle

"A former high-ranking NASA official pleaded not guilty Monday to nine federal charges accusing him of steering a $600,000 contract to Mississippi State University, a client of his consulting firm. Courtney A. Stadd had already been convicted of steering a different contract for almost $10 million to the university. Stadd was sentenced in November to three years probation."

NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver Announced as Keynote Speaker for the Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference in February

"NASA's Deputy Administrator, Lori Garver, will be the opening keynote speaker at the Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference on February 18-20, 2010, at which scientists, engineers, educators, and vehicle developers will gather to discuss the research and education benefits of new commercial suborbital spacecraft."

Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference Update, earlier post

"NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden gave the keynote address at the 215th American Astronomical Society (AAS) meeting held in Washington, DC. With some 3,500 in attendance and more than 2,200 scientific presentations this is the largest astronomy meeting in history. Some of the topics discussed at this year's event include black holes, exoplanets, exploding stars and pulsars."



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