Air Force Faces Increased Launch Costs Thanks To Constellation Termination

As reported by Ben Ionnatta of the Air Force Times, Gary Payton, deputy undersecretary of the Air Force for space programs, testified before Congress on Friday that the Air Force and National Reconnaissance Office could face major increases in the cost of launching satellites as a result of the Obama administration’s decision to cancel NASA’s shuttle replacement program. That’s the good news.

When questioned by Senator David Vitter (R LA), “Was the Air Force explicitly asked the impact on you of canceling Constellation before the decision was made?” Undersecretary Payton responded, “No sir.” So, not one single in person in the Obama Administration or at NASA did the due diligence before canceling a major space flight program of asking the Defense Department about the impact of canceling Constellation. That’s the bad news.

But it’s not the worst news. There comes a point in every failed endeavor–and let’s be clear that all indications presently are that the cancelation of Project Constellation is both a policy and political failure of epic proportions–that one must consider whether the actions taken are so…well, gross that they rise to the level of particular scorn. Before such a sharp claim can be made, it is endemic to review what the Administration and its appointees have wrought:

    To end, on their own volition and without prior Congressional review, a 5-year endeavor to replace the Space Shutte as our nation’s means of reaching low-earth orbit, one that had been funded to in the amount of $9 billion by Congress on 5 previous occasions.

    The employment ramifications of this “new direction” for NASA are as yet unknown because a study of the impact upon employment of such a decision has never been done. The back-of-the-envelope estimates coming in almost daily have shot-up from 21,000 nationally to 38,000 on the Florida Space Coast alone.

    The impact on the space infrastructure and industrial base are wholly unknown because no studies were completed before the change in our nation’s human space flight plans were put forward in the Administration’s fiscal year 2011 NASA Budget.

    The down-stream effects upon others who depend upon our nation having a robust space industry are a mystery as nobody at NASA or in the White House office of Science Advisor thought to contact those parties to get their reaction to ending Constellation or to give them time to respond to such an act.

What follows are the words of a former senior NRO official in 2003 when discussing the issue of loosing people, knowledge and experience in aerospace:

It’s not that we are not as smart as our predecessors were; we’ve just lost all the lessons they learned and the perspective those lessons brought. Access to space is not continuous–we’ve “lost the recipe” on more technologies than you can imagine because space has died multiple deaths over the last 40 years. The technologies and people that get us there can’t support their own weight without a market, and when the market dries up, so do they.

When one day we suddenly change our collective mind and need immediate access to space, the technologies have to be reinstated or reinvented, the people have to be grown and retrained, and we ultimately experience many (if not most) of the same lessons as our predecessors.

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