Frank Sietzen’s Talk At RTTM

“If you believe that if we would only give NASA more money, then everything would be fine, you won’t like the story I’m going to tell you.”

“A NASA administrator [Goldin] who was even more dysfunctional than anyone thought.”

“Struggling against the tide of inertia at [HQ]”

“[Bush] knows more about NASA than we ever thought. Gave instructions to O’Keefe, to go over and fix that mess up (but used a different word than mess, not fit for a family blog).”

“President was very involved, even in the details. Was never interested in a specific destination, but thought that exploring the universe was important. NASA was, to him, an embarrasment, and he didn’t like to be embarrassed.”

“Columbia showed that NASA was even more dysfunctional than the president had thought.”

“A group of low-level staff in the White House asked if they could get together to come up with a paragraph for the president to say at the centennial of flight in December 2003. They met, unaware that there were higher-level meetings going on on space policy.”

“Policy advisor from Reagan administration, met with president. ‘NASA is screwed up!’ President: ‘I know that.’ Advisor: ‘Not only is NASA screwed up, but we ought to go back to the moon, and I have a white paper.'”

“President comes back from Columbia memorial, and wants to develop a vision.”

“Young staffers are coming up with ideas independently.”

“They develop a realization that Shuttle is a roadblock to human spaceflight. The age of the Shuttle had ended on February 1, 2003. A hinge of history had opened. The age of reusability was over [Simberg note: this is the single biggest flaw in the administration (and Aldridge Commission) thinking].”

“NASA is unaware of all this, and they want a new mission, they want an Orbital Space Plane, they want everything.”

“Reconstitute the low-level staff work and come up with a vision, with a strawman policy structure and a calendar. Committee eliminates options until they get down to two or three. O’Keefe continues to ask for budget increases, claiming that they could accomplish all kinds of things with budget increases. Problem was that NASA couldn’t get new money in current environment.”

“Looked at two options–five percent decrease, and five percent increase. Former is “going-out-of-business” budget, and latter isn’t enough for the Moon.”

“Independently, five Senators met Cheney, ‘NASA didn’t have enough money, NASA had no vision.’ (Hollings, Brownback, McCain, Breaux, and Nelson–three of them Dems)”

“OMB came up with five percent for NASA. O’Keefe met with his advisors, and asked them if they’d be willing to give up something for a new vision, and got a consensus. They gave up the Shuttle, and the space station.”

“Loss of SLI means that the government won’t be helping develop any new technology for the next few years.”

“O’Keefe would have given up anything, to save his agency. Why? Because he caught the bug from the president of the United States.”

“Marburger: ‘Mr. President, I think that the objective should be a return to the Moon.’ President: ‘This is about exploring, not destinations.’ So they went back and laid out the Moon as a test bed for exploration. Bush: ‘This is about going to other destinations than the moon, right?'”

“Bush decided that he wanted to address the nation about space. Bush to speechwriter: ‘Get to work on a space speech.’ Speechwriter (who had never heard of any of this): ‘What!?’ President: ‘You heard me.'”

Now describing how they got their story out before the speech, and almost got scooped because no one would believe them.

[shot at Leonard David]: “The UPI editor wouldn’t run the story without being able to verify this.” [To Leonard] “You don’t have a problem like that at”

“President to O’Keefe: If you get this mission, you can’t go about it in the way that NASA does today. You have to get things operating more like FFRDCs, you have to involve entrepreneurs and private enterprise, and you have to get out of the launch business.”

“Stovepiping ends on August 1st. People at centers start to report direct to HQ instead of to the center directors. Some of rank and file are fighting this tooth and nail. Can you imagine an agency that was given the greatest vision in space in the history of the space program, fighting it? There are people who are against this, because they are afraid.”

“Sean O’Keefe has a trick for people who complain that he can’t do something. He reaches into a desk drawer, and pulls out an application for the Post Office. ‘You apparently don’t want to work for NASA…'”

“Things don’t look good for the initiative if Kerry is elected, and even if President is reelected, it’s not clear whether Congress will fund it. To initiate reforms requires more than one group of reformers. If there is a fight over civil space, he [the president[ has to win.”

“This is not the vice president’s story–he only appears in the book three times. This is the president’s program.”

Taking questions now. Jeff Krukin: “Is there any sense that all of this could be made irrelevant by things happening in the private sector”?

Answer: “Yes, O’Keefe has met with Musk, and O’Keefe is very skeptical about the ability of the conventional space industry to do things affordably. Was particularly disturbed by cost estimates for OSP. Has been reaching out to the smaller players.”

“Estimate cost of getting to the Moon by 2020 is 64 billion dollars. They found nine billion for a down payment by 2009, but they won’t be able to afford it all without much lower costs from the private sector (and that doesn’t mean traditional contractors).”

Andrew Chaiken: “Trying to reconcile the stories of the Texas governor who never visited JSC with this new space visionary president.”

Answer: “Read Paul O’Neill’s book. Describes a completely different president than the one O’Keefe described. Was confronted with embarrassment of dysfunctional space program. If it would have been Paul O’Neill as head of NASA, it would have been like talking to a wall–O’Keefe’s personal relationship with Bush was key to making this happen (is personal social friend with the family). Complaint about lack of vision and money from Congress was essential, and if Columbia hadn’t happened, we would not have gotten the new policies. Kids working in White House were necessary as well–everything came together.”

“Different than his father’s space policy, because it recognizes budget realities.”

Now drawing the inevitable comparison with Jim Webb, the administrator during Apollo.

Asked about announcement today that NASA thinks that budget estimate for Return to Flight has more than doubled. Thinks will either shove schedule out, or ratchet up pressure on the Hill to get a budget passed.

“Rollout of the plan was botched, because they didn’t involve Congress, which is under pressure for war and deficits. Senator Brownback is the key.”

Dennis Wingo: “Is there a plan to keep centers like JSC and Goddard from sucking as many funds as possible”?

Answer: “Yes, aware of the problem, working on a strategy.”

End of speech.

I’ll have thoughts later.