Aerospace Letter Suggests Augustine Commission's Decisions Were Predetermined

President Obama tours SpaceX launch pad with CEO Elon Musk, at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, April 15, 2010. Photo Credit: White House/ Chuck Kennedy

Whenever proponents of ‘ObamaSpace’ tout the viability of the Obama plan for the new direction of human space flight they almost invariably mention the Augustine Report. They hold their heads high and spout catch phrases such as ‘unsustainable trajectory’ and whatever else they have been told is the truth.  What if the Augustine Commission’s findings – were predetermined?

Remember, President Obama had stated that he would back NASA’s Constellation Program and to reduce the gap between the end of the shuttle program and the start of Constellation. Shortly after his election (less than four months)? He called together the second Augustine Commission, told them to provide him with suggestions within the current budget (which led to the ‘unsustainable trajectory’ conclusion). After the report was handed to the President, either he or his ‘Science Czar’ John Holdren decided to repurpose NASA.

What was then required were either like-minded individuals or people whose disposition allowed them to be easily guided. Enter Lori Garver and Charles Bolden. Before his selection as NASA Administrator, Bolden enjoyed a very wide popularity. Since then, his actions and statements (especially those regarding NASA’s role toward Muslim nations) as made him a virtual pariah and a laughing stock. Garver, his Deputy Administrator, has been accused of intentionally attempting to dismantle NASA and rebuild it toward her own, personal, objectives.

The frequently used excuse for redirecting NASA is that the funding is not there. Given that barely two-thirds of the Stimulus Package has been spent and that the President has allocated billions to support the redirection of NASA – this argument appears disingenuous at best.

Within a letter from The Aerospace Corporation to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) several dollar amounts are mentioned on page three. One of these is $3 billion, the amount needed for commercial vehicles. It appears (from the contents of this letter) that the Augustine Commission pulled this number out of thin air. The commission did not direct Aerospace (who was working for the commission in a verification role) to verify this estimate. The reason? Because Dr. Edward Crowley, head of the Augustine Committee’s working group to work with Aerospace Corporation that also included Dr. Sally Ride, Ben Bejmuk, and Jeff Greason, gave Aerospace Corporation the $3 billion figures and directed Aerospace Corporation to use that figure without trying to verify its veracity independently [p. 3, 2nd paragraph].

The letter goes on to detail that the estimate of $3 billion may have been grossly misrepresented as it did not include either ground support costs or infrastructure expenses. This appears to be a pattern within the Obama White House in its representation of facts. In one stunning admission, Aerospace Corporation reveals that while it had done a study several years ago of the cost to human-rate a Delta IV Heavy, which would between $5 billion and $9 billion in fiscal year 2009 dollars, the Augustine Committee chose instead to base its assumptions upon the current version of the Delta IV Heavy. Never mind that the current Delta IV Heavy cannot fly the Orion capsule or make maximum use of Orion avionics, as the modified Delta IV Heavy studied under Aerospace Corporation would have.

An even bigger problem emerges from the Aerospace Corporation letter in that the booster selected (for manned projects) should have a ‘proven’ track record. Little bit of an issue there – as the booster, Falcon 9, Obama has clearly demonstrated favoritism toward – has flown once. More importantly, its first flight, nearly 2 years late, ended up not being the fault-free, stunning success that SpaceX originally represented it to be.

It is no wonder that in his recent letter to Scott Hubbard, House Science & Technology Chairman Bart Gordon stated that the Aerospace Corporation letter stood out as a reason for doubting the Administration’s assumptions for terminating the Constellation program.

Naturally enough, the Space Industry Report, which was handed to the President by the Task Force on Space Industry Workforce and Economic Development, lauded the President’s efforts as well as that of Democrats; interestingly, no mention of Republicans that had contributed to the compromise bills being cited was given. Moreover, a majority of work that the Task Force suggested for KSC’s soon-to-be-unemployed workers – the people who have launched astronauts since the beginning – had next to nothing to do with human spaceflight. IT jobs, Homeland Security work and efforts to build up ‘green’ infrastructure were listed as the places these workers should look for work (although aerospace was cited – almost as an afterthought). In an interesting (if unsurprising) side note – NASA Administrator Charles Bolden was a co-chair on this Task Force. This report contained recommendations for how the $40 million the President had allocated to aid the Space Coast region should be spent. This included industries that should be invested in and work that shuttle workers should be directed toward.

Why was this report needed? Because the President’s proposal to end the Constellation program is widely perceived on Capitol Hill as harmful to our nation’s human space flight program in particular and our aerospace industry in general. It is difficult, after reading the Aerospace Corporation letter, to have any confidence in the conclusions of the Augustine Committee since the estimated costs for commercial crewed space transportation were never analyzed, as they should have been. This isn’t just the position of this site; it is also apparently the position of the House full Committee on Science and Technology, along with its Chairman.

15 comments to Aerospace Letter Suggests Augustine Commission’s Decisions Were Predetermined

  • Right from the beginning,I thought the Augustine Commission appeared to be a love fest for the ISS and private commercial launches to the ISS and a hate fest for returning to the Moon. The commission seemed to be especially critical of returning to the Moon and there was hardly even a mention of a Moon base or lunar polar water resources.

    At the time, it seemed as if the fix was in against returning to the Moon while extension of the ISS program was being used as a way of giving private commercial spaceflight companies a reason to exist.

  • Government always have a simple rule, never appoint a commission unless you have already predetermined the outcome.

  • Ferris Valyn

    Let me punch the first 2 holes in this piece right now, with a lot more to follow

    An even bigger problem emerges from the Aerospace Corporation letter in that the booster selected (for manned projects) should have a ‘proven’ track record. Little bit of an issue there – as the booster, Falcon 9, Obama has clearly demonstrated favoritism toward – has flown once. More importantly, its first flight, nearly 2 years late, ended up not being the fault-free, stunning success that SpaceX originally represented it to be.

    Falcon 9 is not the rocket being talked about. Its the Atlas V.

    President Obama had stated that he would back NASA’s Constellation Program and to reduce the gap between the end of the shuttle program and the start of Constellation.

    Sorry, he never actually said that. Watch his speech, and read the white paper. You’ll NEVER hear the words Constellation. Its time to stop acting like Constellation is the end all of human spaceflight, and Ares/Orion is the only way to close the gap.

    Expect a much more developed response later.

    • Jim

      Ferris,

      You are incorrect on both points.

      Actually, the Aerospace Corp. letter, when discussing its EELV analysis work done for NASA and not for the Augustine Committee (are we the only ones who find the Committee’s intellectual unwillingness to have commercial DDT&E costs for human rating their launchers as odd?) was addressing the Delta IV H. Read the letter again and you’ll see it “Delta IV H” page 8, last paragraph.

      And Falcon 9 is certainly relevant to the discussion about whether commercial crewed space should replace the national human space flight program–why, I don’t know since the MAC and our freight/airline industries seem to coexist just fine–since it is only one of two commercial companies currently being subsidized by NASA to develop launchers to supply ISS. And SpaceX is on record as stating that within 3 years of signing a crew-launch contract with NASA that SpaceX will be launching crews to ISS…which certainly has to be taken with a very large dose of salt since SpaceX is two years late with Falcon 9

      As to your second point, watch Obama’s Titusville, Florida “Space Speech” again to refresh your memory. Here’s a link to the speech. Go to 1:52 where then-candidate Obama says “…we cannot cede leadership in space…” and to 1:55 where he says, “…that’s why I’m going to close the ‘Gap’…”

      Some in the New Space, and others who have been anti-Constellation from the beginning, have said that he didn’t mean “The Gap” when he said, …”I’m going to close the gap…”. That’s being disingenuous or worse. Everyone in Titusville, and certainly everyone on the campaign trail working space, knew exactly the context to which candidate Obama was speaking. There was only one Gap at the time of that speech, the date between the last launch of the Shuttle, to which Obama spoke, and the first launch of Ares I/Orion to ISS.

      If you need more context, go back to when Obama made this speech–he was behind in Florida but needed Florida’s 27 electoral votes to win the White House. His November 23, 2007 Education policy statement titled, “BARACK OBAMA’S PLAN FOR LIFETIME SUCCESS THROUGH EDUCATION“, page 15, last paragraph, in which he stated, “The early education plan will be paid for by delaying the NASA Constellation Program for five years…” had been grist for the mill by Hillary Clinton to beat Obama to a pulp in Florida. But Hillary’s strong space position also forced Republican candidates to get space as well–good for Hillary! Candidate Obama’s one clause of a sentence talking about delaying Constellation had been widely reported on by the space press and blogosphere. By the time the Florida Primary was rolling around, Florida looked so bad for the Obama campaign that they sat-out Florida’s Primary under the guise of a technicality concerning when FL’s Primary date was held. At the time Obama made his space speech, it was pretty clear from arguments made by Bill Nelson and others that he either became pro-Constellation, the only way to be pro-space in Florida during the 2008 Presidential campaign, or he risked loosing Florida. So, on August 2, 2008, Obama made a 170° turn in supporting the Constellation program, our only program succeeding the Shuttle, from his past anti-support, if you will.

      • Ferris Valyn

        First, I don’t claim that discussion of Falcon 9 isn’t relevant. What I claim is that Falcon 9 is NOT the primary rocket that was being discussed by the Augustine committee – it was Atlas V. Go watch the tapes from the Augustine Committee – they talk about Atlas V as a backup launch vehicle

        As for closing the gap, and supporting Constellation are 2 different things. The Gap is human access to Space, Constellation is a specific program. Talking about one does not mean talking about the other. You can imagine that they are the same, but they aren’t. It is true, one created the other, but they aren’t the same thing. Closing the Gap does NOT require Constellation.

        As for Obama being beaten to a pulp by Hillary in the Primary…

        Um technicality? Please, get over yourself. Same thing happened in Michigan. Obama sat out, because it was rules violation. And guess what – Hillary had signed a pledge stating she wouldn’t campaign. Clinton went after Florida because she saw the polls that had Obama rising.

        And lets also remember that Obama won the primary months before the Titusville speech

        And while we are discussing Hillary, I’d like to point out who was involved in Hillary’s proposed policy – Lori Garver. Current Deputy Administrator

        Oh, and actually, the turn didn’t start on August 2. Go back and look, and you’ll see an Obama space policy in between Nov 23 2007, and August 2, 2008.

        “If you need more context, go back to when Obama made this speech–he was behind in Florida but needed Florida’s 27 electoral votes to win the White House.”

        Also wrong – the split was 365 to 173. Even if you assume Obama loses those votes, he still would’ve won.

    • Jason Rhian

      On a final note Ferris – take a close look at the rocket behind Obama and Elon Musk, just in case you’re unaware – SpaceX produces the Falcon 9 – not the Atlas.

      • Ferris Valyn

        Yea, I am well aware of that. I suggest you go listen to the actual Augustine Hearing tapes – you’ll see them talk about an Atlas V launcher much more often than a Falcon 9 launcher. In fact, there is a great line where they state that Atlas V 402 can act as a backup launcher.

        Go listen to them.

  • Alan

    9/11 was an inside job!
    The CIA killed Kennedy!
    NASA faked the moon landings!
    There’s a secret installation under the Denver Airport!
    The Augustine Commission report was written by a secret cabal led by Elon Musk!

    I also have a piece of a bridge in Brooklyn NY that I can sell you for cheap.

  • Jason Rhian

    Ferris,

    Which launch pad did Obama visit Apr. 15? It sure wasn’t the Atlas’s. Which rocket did he mention by NAME in his Apr. 15 speech? It was NOT the Atlas – it was the Falcon 9.

    You’re correct, he stated he’d support the lunar program, then a part of the Constellation Program – so KSC residents surmised that this meant he supported Constellation. I have watched the video – numerous times. He implies that he will support what these workers were doing. What are people supposed to do? Divine his meaning out of tea leaves? See their local fortune teller? They took what he said at face value – and then he broke his promises. Try to spin it all you like he DOES say he supports returning to the moon – and then once safely elected – he states, “been there, done that.”

    I was there during his Apr. 15 visit to KSC, I saw how he snubbed the KSC workers and the amount of damage he has inflicted first hand.

    You’re correct – Constellation is not the end-all be-all. But this plan is a launch vehicle to nowhere. And no matter how “inconvenient” the truth – Obama broke his promises. You can write as lengthy a response as you like – but it can’t erase that simple fact.

    • Ferris Valyn

      Actually, no he didn’t. Lets actually review the transcript, shall we? This is the entirety of his speech, in Titusville, that had to do with Space, and NASA

      “And we have to do more than provide short-term relief. We have to secure our long-term prosperity and strengthen America’s competitiveness in the 21st century. One of the areas where we are in danger of losing our competitive edge is our space program. When I was growing up, NASA inspired the world with achievements we are still proud of. Today, we have an administration that has set ambitious goals for NASA without giving NASA the support it needs to reach them. As a result, they’ve had to cut back on research, and trim their programs, which means that after the Space Shuttle shuts down in 2010, we’re going to have to rely on Russian spacecraft to keep us in orbit.

      We cannot cede our leadership in space. That’s why I will help close the gap and ensure that our space program doesn’t suffer when the Shuttle goes out of service by working with Senator Bill Nelson to add at least one additional Space Shuttle flight beyond 2010; by supporting continued funding for NASA; by speeding the development of the Shuttle’s successor; and by making sure that all those who work in the space industry in Florida do not lose their jobs when the Shuttle is retired – because we cannot afford to lose their expertise.

      More broadly, we need a real vision for space exploration. To help formulate this vision, I’ll reestablish the National Aeronautics and Space Council so that we can develop a plan to explore the solar system – a plan that involves both human and robotic missions, and enlists both international partners and the private sector. And as America leads the world to long-term exploration of the moon, Mars, and beyond, let’s also tap NASA’s ingenuity to build the airplanes of tomorrow and to study our own planet so we can combat global climate change. Under my watch, NASA will inspire the world, make America stronger, and help grow the economy here in Florida.”

      Point out where he uses the words Ares. Point out where he says “moon program.” Point out where he says Constellation. Go ahead. Try and find it. Its all there. And if you feel a great need to see if there is any mention of it, elsewhere in the speech, go look at the full speech – http://www.asksam.com/ebooks/releases.asp?file=Obama-Speeches.ask&dn=Town%20Hall%20on%20the%20Economy

      You won’t find it. No promises were broken.

      As for the Falcon 9 vs Atlas V – go watch the tapes from the Augustine Committee. They are all public, and you’ll see that its the Atlas V that gets referred to as the rocket to use as a backstop for a proven record.

      • Jim

        Ferris,

        I deeply appreciate you providing the written record of then candidate Obama’s speech. So, let’s look at second paragraph, second sentence, and we’ll see, “That’s why I will help close the gap and ensure that our space program doesn’t suffer when the Shuttle goes out of service…”

        Does Obama say Ares? Now Ferris, which gap existed upon the retirement of the Shuttle at that time then candidate Obama made his speech? The gap between the retirement of the Shuttle and…the first launch of Ares I/Orion. There was no other gap in the August 2008 time that involved the Space Shuttle that would cede our leadership in space. If there was, please illuminate.

        BTW, what happened to the National Aeronautics & Space Council? How many meetings has it had since January 2009?

  • Jason Rhian

    For your enlightenment:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uUTSac2lIXs

    Moon, Mars and Beyond? That’s the VSE’s motto. How is directing workers to gain employmment in Homeland Security, IT and green jobs going to help us ‘lead’ in space? What happened to shrinking the gap – like Kosmas said – we’re looking at an Obama-induced ‘abyss.’ Oh and Obama needs to learn how to pronounce Brevard.

    • Ferris Valyn

      And yet, using a motto doesn’t mean you are going to follow the proposal. He did not endorse Constellation, or Ares, or Orion, or a “moon program.”

      As for shrinking the gap – guess what – we are. Ares I would’ve flown at the soonest by 2016 (And that required the loss of a $100 Billion space station – not a good trade).

      • Jim

        When you are fighting to win an area and you use terms commonly understood in that area, as “the gap” was commonly used to describe the time between the retirement of the Space Shuttle and the first flight of Ares I/Orion (we’re talking about the Space Coast here Ferris and those folks are pretty up to speed on what the gap was), the candidate was telling the people on the Space Coast, on the eastern anchor of the I-4 Corridor, that he was in agreement with them that such a gap should be minimized. Ferris, maybe you were not in the U.S. at the time, but on the Space Coast, The Gap was one of the biggest issues.

        After this speech, and sadly after McCain gave a big speech about freezing the federal budget should he win office, Nelson and Biden ran up and down the eastern coast of Florida talking about how McCain was going to increase The Gap by freezing NASA’s budget while Obama would reduce it. And Nelson’s voice became my constant companion on the radio as he intoned that Obama was going to keep us strong in space by closing The Gap. I know Ferris; I was the space guy for the McCain campaign on the Space Coast.

        As for the President’s current proposal, I’m not sure if you’ve been watching, but he’s…well, 0 & 1 so far after the Senate vote, with the House to chime in either next week or after the elections.

      • Jim

        “And yet, using a motto doesn’t mean you are going to follow the proposal.”

        Ok, you lost all of us on this. Please clarify.