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.