NASA Administrator Addresses Worried Audience at Space Symposium
[Satellite News 04-13-10] NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told anxious audience members at the 2010 Space Symposium that U.S. President Barack Obama’s new direction for NASA, outlined in the 2010 fiscal year governmental budget, should be seen as a transformative effort rather than a massive budget cut.
In the budget, released Feb. 1, the White House terminated NASA’s work on Orion, the follow-up vehicle to the Space Shuttle; ended development on two NASA rockets designed to fly manned missions to the moon; and set aside funding to hand over space transportation and future human exploration mission to private commercial companies.
However, some audience members remained skeptical. One NASA official, who asked not be name for this story, said that Obama’s budget looks for answers to NASA’s problems in the wrong direction. “Instead of handing off space exploration development to private companies, I think Obama should fix the problems at NASA that got it into its mess in the first place. The Orion project needed better and more efficient management and I think we will end up throwing a lot of good work to waste.”
While Bolden defended the budget, he assured the audience that he did not “tip the president’s hand” in creating it and that anxious space industry personnel should wait until Obama’s scheduled speech during a space conference on Thursday, where he is scheduled to give more details on the NASA budget. “Both NASA and the president are absolutely committed to a vibrant future for human spaceflight … We will use innovative technologies developed in a step-wise approach,” said Bolden.
Obama’s NASA budget cuts do not stop with Orion. If implemented, the new structure will see the National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) program dismantled and split between separate projects headed by the U.S. Department of Defense and a partnership between NASA and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), according to a plan released by White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) in February.
“The new system will resolve this challenge by splitting the procurements. NOAA and NASA will take primary responsibility for the afternoon orbit, and [the Pentagon] will take primary responsibility for the morning orbit. The agencies will continue to partner in those areas that have been successful in the past, such as a shared ground system,” the OSTP said in a statement.
Manufacturers’ views on Obama’s change of direction are mixed. Lockheed Martin and Orbital Sciences released conflicting responses to Obama’s plan, highlighting an inevitable battle between the resulting winners and losers in the commercial sector.
“We are keenly disappointed in the Administration’s budget proposal,” Lockheed Martin said in a statement. “Significant investment has already been made by the nation and private industry in Orion, which is human rated to provide a level of safety unmatched by any previous or currently proposed crewed vehicles. Nearly 4,000 people at more than 500 commercial companies and hundreds of small business suppliers across the country have worked diligently on the Orion project to support the nation’s human space flight efforts.”
Orbital Sciences, one of NASA’s COTS contract winners eligible to receive some of the $200 million that Obama allocated for commercial industry alternatives in the fiscal year 2011 budget, praised the decision. "In its first time at bat, the Obama Administration hit the ball out of the park in setting this new direction for NASA. As a commercial partner to the space agency for over 25 years, Orbital is very excited about this new course for America’s civil space program,” Orbital Chairman and CEO David Thompson said in a statement.
Bolden said that the most important thing about the budget is that it changes the status quo on how NASA operates. “NASA will now take small steps along a game-changing path. The re-focus with international and commercial partners is a move that aims to promote competition and allow innovation to thrive.”