Keeping NASA On A Leash

There is some speculation, not unsupported given recent comments by NASA’s Chief Technologist Robert Braun, that NASA may try to go its own way when designing the nation’s next launch vehicle. But that doesn’t seem to have been the intent of Congress, if one reads Title IV of the 2010 NASA Authorization Act. Indeed, according to one individual close to the negotiations,

    Well, many of the same people who wrote the 2005 and 2008 Authorization Acts were involved in drafting S.3729, so they are VERY aware of the potential for “non-compliance.” They are also very much aware of continuing efforts on the part of certain parties to “slow-roll” or otherwise undermine the letter and intent of what will soon be signed into law.

    With regard to the bill itself, the very detailed report required in Section 309 is the first “early warning system” built into the bill to ensure steps are taken towards compliance, well before the two-year scenario you described. If it appears that the completion of that report is being delayed arbitrarily and without justification, there are a number of fairly aggressive “oversight” steps that can–and likely would–be taken that would ensure “transparency” of those activities–and accountability for those undertaking them–which appeared intended to dilute or subvert the law.

    Of course, it is to be hoped that, once the President signs the bill into law, it not only becomes the law of the land and the official “policy” of the United States, but it also demonstrates his acceptance of its content as the policy of the Administration. That would open other “avenues” for Congress to pursue enforcement of the law and implementation of its provisions, in partnership with the White House.

    Elsewhere in the bill, the minimum vehicle performance requirements–which some have argued were overly prescriptive, but are, in fact, a direct response to the experience with respect to the 2005 and 2008 Acts that you refer to–provide additional “bell-weathers” regarding compliance. Over the next several weeks you will see other evidence that the authors of this bill do not consider that the bill is the “final step” in establishing NASA’s future direction, but is really the first essential step of many to follow, not the least of which, of course, is the appropriations part of the overall process.

Its good to know that Congress is under no illusions that some at NASA wouldn’t try to derail this new launcher effort through some of the same means they’ve attacked Constellation.

AmericaSpace Note: Corrected that Robert Braun is NASA’s, not Marshall’s, Chief Technologist. We apologize for any misunderstanding.

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