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Sen. Vitter Has Been Drinking the Koolaid

By Keith Cowing
February 25, 2010
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Keith’s note: There was one bizarre series of events today in the Senate hearing on NASA’s budget that I found to be very odd – and a little troubling. I am referring to the series of questions that Sen. Vitter (R-LA) asked of Charlie Bolden with regard to Deputy NASA Administrator Lori Garver. The questions focused on who made the decision to cancel Constellation and whether Lori Garver was at the heart of this. He also seemed to suggest that Lori was pushing to oust Bolden and usurp his job – something he said that he “would not support”.
Within a few moments it was clear that Vitter had been programmed by his staff with some sort of magic fairy dust and that he was going to pursue a line of questioning that focused on Garver and repeated use of the word “radical” and not on anything of substance related to the budget. Clearly, Vitter’s staff were using him as a proxy in a search for a cabal, smoking gun, or a scheming mastermind behind the Obama space policy. Typical Washington blood sport.
This is not new: there is a small subculture of space policy wannabes out there who seem to be convinced that Lori Garver has sold her soul in the pursuit of some sort of plan to destroy human space flight and replace it with … well, they do not agree on that part. The silly thing about all of this is the illogic of someone like Lori ever being inclined to want to “kill” human spaceflight. Quite the contrary.
Let me say this. I have known Lori for more than 20 years. If you have read NASA Watch you will know that in the past I have not hesitated to criticize her when I saw fit. But let me tell you, for anyone with a shred of knowledge about Lori and her background to suggest that she is against human space travel – of any kind is ludicrous. Not only did she head the National Space Society, an organization devoted to human space flight, but she spent 6 months of her life training to get a seat on a Soyuz flight as “AstroMom” and even had surgery to meet the medical qualifications. It just doesn’t compute.
If you want to throw rocks and dabble in second rate Da Vinci code cabal mongering, then go look into the inner workings of OSTP and OMB. That is where these policies were developed and delivered to NASA – not the other way around.
As such, I have to wonder what those staffers sitting silently behind Vitter were thinking when they poured this nonsense into his head. Clearly they know how things work here in Washington. But instead of trying to have a serious discussion about the programmatic merits or detriments of the policy, Vitter went off on a wild goose chase – and hit a brick wall.
Funny thing: Sen. Vitter never uttered the word “Michoud” as far as I could tell.
Senator’s attack on NASA deputy chief Lori Garver backfires , Orlando Sentinel
“Several sources on the Hill, in industry and inside the Obama administration blame rocket maker ATK, the developer of the Ares I rocket first stage, for putting Vitter up to the attack. Sources say that complaints have been sent to ATK and so far there has been no response. In the meantime, members of the Senate and the House said they were going to refrain from any further personal attacks as they move against the White House’s proposed 2011 budget for the space agency.”
Keith’s update: “NASA Watch has learned that the impetus for Senator Vitter’s remarks about the alleged role of Lori Garver in developing the new NASA plans did not come from his committee staff support, as had been suggested in the author’s earlier post.” Ok, so that is what a Capitol Hill source asked me to post. I am not sure I totally believe it though. Something smells a little funny about all of this. What I won’t post (or hint at) is their identity. Nor will I post the arrogant, snarky, insult-ladden emails that accompanied this. I just love it when these Hill folks send these emails in an official capacity but then demand to control what subset of the information I can or cannot use – all under utter anonymity. But let me tell you – when a Senator gets on the train to Crazy Town like Sen. Vitter did, the people responsible for advising, preparing, and guiding that Senator have failed in their job. Miserably so.

NASA Watch founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.