Backpedaling Fast

On Monday, the White House and NASA executive management proposed terminating Project Constellation and starting fresh with the commercial launchers, none of whom have built anything that can launch more than a refrigerator, never mind a crew, into low-earth orbit. NASA Administrator Bolden put out a upbeat statement about the new direction NASA was taking.

That same day, NASA Deputy Administrator Garver was extolling the virtues on NASA’s new direction and said of Glenn Research Center, near Cleveland, Ohio, “I just think they are so well-suited for this forward-going program,”. No such comforting words were offered to Marshall Space Flight Center, Johnson Space Center, and Kennedy Space Center, which were cumulatively looking at over 10,000 job losses due to this forward-going program.

On Tuesday, NASA Administrator Bolden stated “We’re not abandoning human spaceflight by any stretch of the imagination,” Bolden said at the National Press Club in a speech promoting Obama’s budget, released Monday. “I think we’re going to get there perhaps quicker than we would have done before.” By that time, however, people ranging from former Apollo astronauts such as Walt Cunningham and Gene Cernan to Shuttle astronauts, famous writers, and many politicians were making it pretty clear that NASA’s new policies were DOA.

Come Wednesday, NASA Administrator Bolden, feeling a bit combative, told NASA employees that he understood many were upset, but that neither he nor the president intended to back down on plans to cancel the Constellation program and hand responsibility for operating rockets to private companies. Just to amp things up a bit, Bolden exclaimed that it was time for NASA employees to “get with the program”. In explaining his decision to terminate Constellation, Bolden said that in the current “dire” fiscal climate he could not ethically recommend to the president that pouring tens of billions more dollars into Constellation was essential.”

By Friday, it seems that the hew and cry from…well, everyone in Congress was starting to get NASA’s leadership’s attention. To start-off with, Homer Hickam, author of, “Rocket Boys“, the book that formed the story for, “October Sky“, had written both NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver and White House Science Advisor asking that they resign over their managerial and policy incompetance. And just to add some spice, Hickam then wrote Representative Bart Gordon, Chairman of the House Committee on Science and Technology, telling him of his letters, the reason for them, and his willingness, more like enthusiasm, to testify before Gordon’s Committee. Of course, there was a Facebook group, Save NASA’s Constellation and Manned Space Flight Program that had grown from 0 to 9,800 members in less than 5 days, and by tonight was 11,247 members. Or there was Support The Constellation Program, which grew from 0 to 1,200 members. If that wasn’t enough, Support NASA and the Space Program was coming in at 2,220 members. A YouTube video parodying Hitler’s reaction upon hearing that Obama was abandoning human space flight with the subtitle, “I knew he did it only to win Florida”, which was true, and closing with, “Cancel my NasaTV” was going viral. Some were too “offended” to link to the video, though those same folks never had any problems casting aspersions to Mike Griffin or Steve Cook. By the end of Friday, another video, “Save Constellation“, by TauFox had over 89,000 views. No matter how you looked at NASA’s policy, things were getting very hot for NASA’s management.

Now, it’s Saturday. A day of relaxation, BBQ, Shuttle launches, and mea culpas. Or at least, damage control. In an article by CNN, NASA Administrator Bolden was reported singing a far different tune than Wednesday’s “Get with the program” mantra and had instead shifted to expressing concerns for NASA job looses and professions that “The reason why the NASA work force is not better prepared was because I didn’t listen to people … who talked about how we should roll these things out,” Bolden said. “I thought I knew better, to be quite honest. So we rolled out the budget, we rolled out everything in the manner we did and it was screwed up.”  According to CNN, Bolden said he hopes to recoup about 1,000 jobs by persuading Congress to keep some or all of the Constellation’s Ares program, and that he was involved in talks on Capitol Hill. “Those are the sorts of negotiations I have to do,” he added. He didn’t mention which Ares, Ares I or Ares V. So, as far as anyone in the Save Constellation movement is concerned, more pressure needed.

1 comment to Backpedaling Fast

  • Great recap of a terrible week. Thanks for everything you’re doing. I agree we need to keep up the pressure to save American manned space exploration.