Many don’t trust President Obama to execute this policy along these lines. Neither do I, necessarily. But I’d rather have good policy poorly executed than poor policy well executed. The execution can always be improved later. Do I believe that Obama really cares as much about human spaceflight as he said in his speech at the Cape? No, and I think that’s a good thing. I think he sees NASA as a problem he inherited from George W. Bush, and in that, he is right for once. He assigned to the problem people who do care about getting humans into space and, like Bush, he now wants to move on to other matters. Really, we should fear the day he gets interested in spaceflight; that will be the day that private enterprise is no longer trusted to conduct it. Let’s hope that day never comes. In the meantime, remember that when government does the right thing, it doesn’t matter whether it’s done for the wrong reason. Whatever the motivations behind it, this is a much more visionary space policy than we’ve ever had before.
Nothing has happened in the interim to cause me to change my mind.
And Bob is unrealistic here:
From a political perspective, I might have believed the sincerity of the Obama administration proposal, including the decision to cancel Constellation, had they simultaneously announced that they would extend the shuttle program a few years until the new private companies could get up to speed. Such a compromise would have gone over well in Congress, as it would have eased the job losses. It would have eliminated the need to rely on the Russians to reach orbit. It would eased the transition from the government manned program to the private manned program. And it would have demonstrated that the administration really does consider manned space exploration important. The result: the administration would have probably had little problem selling the proposal to Congress, thereby increasing the chances that the money would have been there to fund the development of the new private rockets and spacecraft.
It’s no longer possible to “extend” the Shuttle program. The last ET was rolled out of the plant in Michaud this week, and it would take years and billions to resurrect the second- and third-tier contractors for the parts needed to continue to fly. Not to mention the risk of losing another orbiter, at which point you’ve invested billions to keep it flying when the fleet is no longer of a viable size.
As Clark says, there was a reason that Mike Griffin wanted to get rid of the Shuttle and ISS — they eat up all the available budget. Even if you could continue to fly at a reasonable cost, Congress doesn’t give a damn about private rockets — they just want their pork. If they could keep Shuttle going, and ISS, they’d be happy to just continue making no progress, because they just don’t care, as long as the jobs and symbolism remained intact.
I have to say, though, that I’m still skeptical that Congress will even get an authorization bill out this year, regardless of what the Gray Lady says. The House has yet to speak, and they have to reconcile in conference. And I think that on the south side of the Hill, Dana Rohrabacher may have some influence on doing something sensible. Gabby Giffords wants to save Ares/Orion, but that’s not in the cards, and I think there’s a good chance that they won’t be able to compromise with the Senate. I don’t think that there will be any serious space policy making until next calendar year, when the new Congress comes in (very likely a Republican House). We have to be doing battleground preparation for that now.
[Update early afternoon]
Clark Lindsey has the budget numbers:
As you can see for 2010, Space Shuttle took up about a third of that $10B. Now that it has slipped into 2011, that category rises from about a billion back to around three billion. There will be about four billion for the HLV, Orion, commercial cargo, commercial crew, flagship technology demos, etc. (There are some HSF related tech projects in the Space Technology category (pdf).) If the Senate forces a full scale HLV and Orion programs, that leaves nothing much for those initiatives that will lead to lower cost spaceflight for NASA in the future.
And remember, these are just authorizers. Even if they want to up the budget, they can’t — that happens in appropriations, and that number is already pretty much set. So if they persist in this, all they’re doing is eating the seed corn, and locking us into continued high costs, and no progress, for years.
[Update a few minutes later]
Jeff Foust has more on the Senate authorization activity. As “Major Tom” points out in comments, those hoping for a Restoration don’t realize how weak authorization committees are:
he devil is in the details. I doubt the authorization language would require any real programmatic changes to NASA’s FY11 budget. For example, it’s hard to see the authorization bill specifying a particular HLV design or heritage or a particular level of HLV design decision in 2011. In response to authorization language dictating an HLV design decision in 2011, NASA could simply state that the HLV will employ a LOX/kerosene engine and have at least 50mT of lift and leave the level of specificity at that until more informed and detailed decisions can be made in a few years. Similarly, with authorization language dictating a deep space Orion variant, NASA could argue that it is pursuing such a “Block 1″ variant by developing the “Block 0″ CRV. Or use the language as justification to recompete Orion to create something more affordable within the resources provided by the appropriators, who didn’t provide additional funding for Constellation, ESMD, or NASA overall. (The devil is also in the budget.)
Of course, unlike appropriations bills, which combine NASA’s budget with funding for other departments and agencies, it’s easy to derail or veto standalone authorization bills. If the Administration doesn’t like what it sees in the authorization bill, it’s relatively easy for NASA legislative affairs to raise issue after isse until the bill dies in subcommittee or committee, and the appropriators are forced to act. Or for the White House to simply veto the bill outright if it gets that far.
Actually, given the incompetence of this administration, I supposed they could get rolled by the Congress. Then I remember that we’re talking about people like Bill Nelson, here.