A couple months ago, I offered some advice to the Augustine panel:
Ignore the politics
Yes, of course Senator Shelby (R-AL) is going to want to see a new vehicle developed in Huntsville, Alabama, and Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) is going to want to ensure the maintenance of jobs at the Cape, and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and various Houston-area congressmen are going to want to maintain jobs at Johnson Space Center. That will take priority in their minds over actual accomplishments in space.
But your job is to tell the policymakers how to give the taxpayers the best value for their money — and how to maximize our space-faring capabilities as soon as possible, so that if we do see something coming at us or find riches off the planet, we can take advantage of it.
Think of yourself like a Base Closing and Realignment Commission that provides recommendations for the nation as a whole, not local interests. Let the politicians argue about how to preserve jobs (while ignoring all of the jobs and wealth not being created due to the opportunity costs of their parochial decisions).
I don’t know whether he read it or not, but he seems to be following it:
A presidential space panel on Thursday challenged NASA’s vision of establishing a base on the moon and instead weighed other ambitious options that include free-ranging spaceships that could visit destinations throughout the inner solar system.
Noticeably absent, however, was discussion of NASA’s work force — despite a packed hotel ballroom filled with dozens of Kennedy Space Center workers worried about pink slips.
“We’re not designing any option with the idea in mind of preserving or not preserving the work force,” said Norm Augustine, the retired Lockheed Martin CEO who leads the 10-member panel named by the White House to evaluate NASA’s human spaceflight program.
…But even testimony from Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp did little to steer the conversation in that direction. He warned that Florida faces an “economic shock wave” during the time between the shuttle’s retirement and the first launch of its problem-plagued successor, which may not be ready until 2019.
“Due to the impending gap, Florida is bracing for a hardship — the magnitude of which the state has not seen for decades,” said Kottkamp, who estimated that the 7,000 job losses at KSC could ripple into 20,000 more unemployed workers on the Space Coast.
Defense has the same political problems, of course, with the fight in Congress to keep the F-22 funded being the latest example, and one in which the arguments are explicitly made that they have to do so to preserve jobs, with whether or not it actually helps us defend the country a second-tier issue at best. It’s even harder to fight this pork mentality when it comes to something as unimportant as space exploration and development, so we’ll see how long Augustine’s attitude remains once the politicians get involved. But I’m glad that we will at least make clear the difference between a program designed to explore and develop space, and one designed to make work for the politically connected.