NASA, White House

Bush: “NASA needed to become relevant”

Many space advocates often complain that President Bush says little about NASA, being rather quiet about the space agency in the three and a half years since the unveiling of the Vision for Space Exploration. Well, today they got their wish: Bush answered a question about NASA during a town hall meeting in Cleveland. Here’s the question and answer from the official White House transcript (scroll down about half way to get to the relevant passage). It’s not exactly the most, umm, articulate response:

Q Mr. President, like this world-class health care institution [Bush visited the Cleveland Clinic before the town hall meeting], NASA Glenn is one of the crown jewels, along with the talented people there, in our new economy crown. As you know, we recently won the crew exploration vehicle contract. We’re very happy about that. Given all the competing demands for resources in Washington, what kind of funding do you see for NASA and its mission going forward?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. That’s an awkward question to ask a Texan. (Laughter.) I think that NASA needed to become relevant in order to be — to justify the spending of your money, and therefore, I helped changed the mission from one of orbiting in a space shuttle — in a space station to one of becoming a different kind of group of explorers. And therefore, we set a new mission, which is to go to the moon and set up a launching there from which to further explore space.

Notice the President’s distillation of the Vision: “go to the moon and set up a launching there from which to further explore space.” It plays up one aspect of the original speech about the Vision—establishing a base there to serve as a site (or, in the President’s terminology, “a launching”) from which to stage missions elsewhere in the solar system—that was criticized by some people who otherwise supported the Vision, seeing such a use as ineffective or infeasible.

But wait, there’s more:

And the reason I did that is, I do want to make sure the American people stay involved with — or understand the relevance of this exploration. I’m a big — I support exploration, whether it be the exploration of new medicine — that would be like NIH grants — the exploration of space through NASA. I can’t give you the exact level of funding.

So much for a direct answer to the question. And finally:

I would argue with you that we got a lot of money in Washington — not argue, I’ll just tell you, we got a lot of money in Washington. (Laughter.) And we need to make sure we set priorities with that money. One of the problems we have in Washington is that unlike the books I saw at the hospital — of which, you’re on the board — that said “results”, we’re not very good about measuring results when we spend your money. A lot of time the program sound nice; a lot of time the results don’t match the intentions.

So one of the things I’ve tried to do through the OMB is to be results-oriented, and when programs don’t meet results, we try to eliminate them. And that’s hard to do. Isn’t it, Steve? Yes. But, no — I believe in exploration, space exploration. And we changed the mission to make it relevant. Thanks.

President Bush’s comments do suggest an interesting exercise: 42 months into the Vision for Space Exploration, how would you judge the “results” so far?

31 comments to Bush: “NASA needed to become relevant”

  • D. Messier

    I guess the Earth science programs didn’t meet the results Bush hoped for – i.e., they kept confirming global climate change. I guess that’s why they have been cut so much.

    An interesting question, Jeff. But. Bush’s opinion is the only one that counts. And he probably thinks things are moving along nicely. So, what does it matter what anyone else thinks?

  • Well, the best gauge is probably the VSE itself.

    A-Exploration Activities in LEO
    STS:
    -Return to flight…Check (sort of)
    -Focus on Assembly of ISS…Nope, already distracted with a Hubble mission, STS likelihood to fly after 2010 ~50%/50% (up from 0%)
    -Retire STS at ISS complete…waiting
    ISS:
    -Complete, including foreign components…waiting
    -Focus research on exploration goals…yeah, sorta
    -Fulfill US obligations under MOUs, Treaties, &c…hard to say

    B Space Exploration beyond LEO
    The Moon:
    -Undertake activities to enable sustained exploration of Mars & Beyond…luckily no timetable given for this one
    -From 2008 on, a series of robotic missions pathfinding for human follow-on…sorry, down to 1 robot orbiter. Make it last.
    -Human extended mission to Moon between 2015-2020…working
    -Use lunar activities to further science and develop/test new approaches, technologies, and systems…unlikely given death of NIAC and general looting of marginal programs.

    Mars & Other Destinations
    -Conduct robotic exploration of Mars…no problem there, Mars is going to be thouroughly examined from afar by the time we get there. It would be nice to have such effort applied to our immediate destination, the Moon…
    -Conduct robotic exploration across solar system, in particular Jupiter’s Moons…yeah, sorta, if we could get Dawn launched
    -Conduct advanced telescope searches for Earth-like planets really, really, really, really far away…working
    -Develop/demonstrate power generation, propulsion, life support and other key capabilities for Mars & beyond…see above re: NIAC
    -Conduct human expeditions to Mars…new theme song: “Don’t Stop Believin’ (Hold on to that feelin’)”

    C Space Transportation Capabilities Supporting Exploration
    -Develop a new CEV for crew transport beyond LEO (initial test flight by 2010, operational capability by 2014)…well, see, we’re working on this really wicked cool transportation architecture so, like, it’s going to take a bit longer, but it’ll be really trippindicular when it’s done, you know?
    -Separate to maximum extent practicable cargo from crewed transport to ISS and points beyond LEO…Um, yeah, can we get back to you on that one?

    D International and Commercial Participation
    -Pursue international participation in providing for our plans…check
    -Pursue commercial opportunities for providing transportation and other services supporting and exploration missions beyond LEO…does $500Mn for COTS work for you? Um, okay…check

    So for A I’d give NASA an A for effort on STS, and an incomplete on ISS.
    For B I’d give a D-, since we’re really going to need some Surveyor landers in the South Pole region of the Moon. One orbital mapper ain’t going to cut it. We’re over dataed on Mars, and woefully deficient in the small bodies from the Asteroid Belt on in.
    For C I’d give NASA an F.
    For D I’ll give them a B- since they’re at least going through the motions.

    It’s almost as if NASA’s biggest hurdle in implementing the VSE…is NASA.

  • ColdWater

    I don’t think Bush even remembered what he said in the original VSE proclamation. I had a great laughing over that.

  • anonymous

    If the M in OMB was taken more seriously and given more teeth, especially when it came to Presidential priorities, the current incarnation of the VSE would fall by the wayside quickly.

    Man, sometimes I think the late-night talk shows (Letterman et al.) are picking on Bush by selectively showing clips where he’s egregiously inarticulate. And then I read passages like this… yowzer.

  • MarkWhittington

    With due respect, I rather think that the question is premature. I realize that there are people, for whatever reason (political? psychological?) who want to declare that effort a complete and utter failure even when it has barely begun, but to my mind that is sort of like suggesting that World War II was a failure in the middle of 1942. Wait a few years and see how far things have gone.

    Anon, by the way, Jeff’s posting was a selection. In any case we know the President’s strength is not exactly in his off the cuff rhetoric.

  • Ferris Valyn

    I would actually ask
    - is he that stupid?
    or
    - has he been enjoying the cocaine again?

  • New European

    D International and Commercial Participation
    -Pursue international participation in providing for our plans…check

    What exactly did NASA do to achieve this goal? Except turning down European participiation in CEV programme.

  • As usual it’s all in the words. VSE is a vision not an exact specification, but in so far as it does specify goals:
    Return to flight – done
    ISS completion – in progress, station 60% complete
    STS retirement by 2010 – on schedule
    STS replacement – in development or being competed, working towards IOC Sep 2013
    RTTM by 2020 – on schedule – LRO/LCROSS 2008 on schedule, Lunar architecture being refined, Lander project office setup
    Mars: Phoenix 2007 ready for launch, MSL 2009 in development, Mars Scout 2011 under study, Mars human mission architecture under study
    Beyond: Dawn 2007 ready for launch, Kepler 2008 on schedule, Juno 2011 in development, JWST 2013 in development

    But wait this can’t be true, NASA is not perfect, there must be so many things we can hammer them for, let’s see:
    Shuttle still hasn’t fixed all those ice frost ramps, ISS is 40% unfinished, why aren’t they building a better replacement for STS?
    JWST is way behind schedule and over budget (as this isn’t a human spaceflight project let’s give it a pass), oh yes and Dawn is late for launch and Griffin doesn’t read blogs.

    Sure 42 months is a lot of time, but NASA has a lot of very difficult things to do; to move them faster NASA needs more money.

  • richardb

    I’ll be brave and go long. There will be many Bush-basher & VSE proponents who will pine for the good old days of W2 around 2012. Assuming of course a Democrat is in the WH. Last time a Clinton was in charge, Nasa’s flat line budget was saddled with politically expedient engineering direction for the ISS.

    Remember Goresat? Still collecting dust somewhere. Remember all the misdirection with X-33, X-34? Of course all administrations can claim a white elephant from Nasa going back to JFK and Nasa’s infancy. What will make Nasa post Bush memorable is the bitterness of W2′s opponents and their desire to punish all things, people and ideas associated with him. I do expect Nasa to go back to its flat lined or declining budget days of William Jefferson Clinton, especially if Barak Hussien Obama takes over.

  • Wow – I have to say, richardb, I am impressed. Espcially when it comes to Obama, without any sort of basis, you make these grand preditions. Really, wow. I am impressed.

    I would say this – VSE isn’t the Bush legacy when it comes to space – ESAS will be, and it is terrible. I think I’ll quote Ken Murphy here

    -Develop a new CEV for crew transport beyond LEO (initial test flight by 2010, operational capability by 2014)…well, see, we’re working on this really wicked cool transportation architecture so, like, it’s going to take a bit longer, but it’ll be really trippindicular when it’s done, you know?
    -Separate to maximum extent practicable cargo from crewed transport to ISS and points beyond LEO…Um, yeah, can we get back to you on that one?

  • richardb

    Yes indeed, grand predictions. That is why I began by saying “I’ll be brave and go long.”

  • I give Bush credit for realizing the shuttle and the ISS programs were going nowhere. Doing nothing to inspire public interest, and consuming the entire NASA manned space exploration budget in the never-ending process. That should’ve been done 10 years ago! It is far too early to be overly critical of the vision or of NASA’s ability to deliver on it. I rest the success on Bush’s predecessor’s and NASA’s future management team. Perhaps the biggest contribution this makes is opening up the opportunity for the private sector to service near-earth transfer and supply missions rather than NASA.

  • Here’s my prediction. When history casts its verdict on the Bush Presidency, the VSE will be one of very few bright points in an otherwise disastrous administration.

  • D. Messier

    Yes, things could look better in retrospect. They usually do. It’s called nostalgia. It seems to be what Bush is betting on (which tells you a lot about how bad things are at the moment). Bush would like to be viewed as Harry Truman or George Washington in the future, someone who led the country through dark times.

    On the other hand, Bush could look even worse from the future. Bush could be viewed as a modern-day Honorius, the emperor who took over the Western Roman Empire in 395 when it was still intact and quite powerful. By the time he died in 423, the overextended empire was crumbling, its military strength exhausted and its treasury bare.

  • Bush and/or the VSE isn’t the problem. I implore all to actually read the real thing rather than NASAs tripe since so few obviously have, I linked it as my website.

    First we’ve got Congress (both Republican and Democrats equally) failing to:

    a. provide real oversight of NASA implementation decisions (ARES etc). I guess it’s too much work for Congress? Hearings and investigations are only fun if it’s mudslinging politics? Lobbing softballs at Griffin doesn’t count.

    b. a budget freeze which made no sense as money is mandated to go where it isn’t needed. Once again I guess it’s too much work for Congress to actually do their intended job.

    c. said budget freeze representing in effect a budget reduction for NASA. You can guess what comment goes here.

    Then we’ve got NASA:

    a. subverting the spirit of the VSE, most likely out of an deeprooted organisational/managerial culture of ineptitude. There’s no reason for NASA to waste time, effort, and money on making powerpoint presentations on why they are (or could be) important as the VSE does that well enough. Of course if they did that their problem would become one of actually doing things right rather than talking about doing things and if that goes too far then a lot of paperpushers at NASA would have nothing to do.

    b. bleeding their fairly successful programs dry in order to keep obviously flawed projects alive.

    c. in effect pretending serious problems with their chosen approach doesn’t exist. Pretending there’s no alternatives. Pretending they’ll get away with an awful lot of stuff that doesn’t pass muster.

    d. being caught intentionally “spending” (actually giving) as much money as possible to choice contractors even when those very contractors failed to meet their obligations. Let’s call it what it is: corruption.

  • D. Messier

    Mr. Forget etc. etc:

    You’ve just demonstrated why Bush’s poll numbers are under 30 percent. People view his administration is incompetent. They don’t see him taking any responsibility when things go badly. Nor does he usually hold anyone responsible who’s directly involved in the program. This is why he’s viewed more as George Costanza than George Washington. The latter usually took responsibility when things went badly.

  • Dennis Wingo

    ESAS update.

    Scotty Horowitz is leaving NASA as of Oct 1 according to Space News and other sources inside the agency. He sent out an email across the agency today about this.

  • D. Messier I actually did no such thing, please get out of your partisan mode and attain at least some basic knowledge about who is supposed to do what within the US government.

    I’ll put it even more bluntly D. Messier: you and your kind of wordtwisting is pure politics without content. You are part of the problem.

  • ColdWater

    Here’s my prediction. When history casts its verdict on the Bush Presidency, the VSE will be one of very few bright points in an otherwise disastrous administration.

    I agree with your use of “disastrous” to describe this administration. However, I think many will view VSE as an example of how out-of-touch this administration was with the really important issues facing the nation, such as health care and energy. This is unfortunate, but it is likely, especially with the debacle in Iraq.

    A lot of NASA managers and employees realize this, and are jumping from the sinking ship.

  • Al Fansome

    Mr. Wingo,

    Did you mean to imply that Scotty Horowitz leaving is a bad sign?

    If you did, I have to agree. People usually stay around when things are going well, and often jump ship when things are going poorly. I have to believe that Doc would not be leaving if things were going well. It might even be a harbinger of big changes ahead (which would be a surprise).

    Who takes his place will be another sign. Some options are “stay the course”. Others are “we need change”.

    Considering that Griffin is still in charge, I think a “stay the course” choice is highly likely. Griffin may not be able to force people stay on a sinking ship, but he can make that ship stay on its present course.

    - Al

  • anon

    RICHARDB: I’ll be brave and go long. There will be many Bush-basher & VSE proponents who will pine for the good old days of W2 around 2012. Assuming of course a Democrat is in the WH. Last time a Clinton was in charge, Nasa’s flat line budget was saddled with politically expedient engineering direction for the ISS.

    If you believe that everybody who has concerns with ESAS (the Griffin version of VSE) is a Bush-basher, I recommend that you listen closely to the Republicans on the 3:45 pm panel at NewSpace 2007 next Friday, July 20th in Crystal City. There are many prospace Republicans who have problems with what this Administration is doing (and not doing).

    For some reason, I doubt that these Republicans will be “pining” for “the good old days of W2.”

    http://www.space-frontier.org/Events/NewSpace2007/#fridayanchor

    3:45 pm NewSpace for a New President?

    2008 will see a U.S. Presidential election just five weeks after NASA’s 50th anniversary. Can any space issues break through the background noise of the campaign? What “space status quo” will a new occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania inherit on January 20, 2009? Will the “Vision” still be relevant? Will a new President grant a reprieve to the Shuttle’s death sentence? In a world of threats to military space assets, global environmental concerns, and Virgin Galactic, will anyone care about NASA’s human spaceflight? Will NewSpace see new opportunities for policy innovation and political support? Answering this and other questions will be a panel of people who have worked in space policy positions for the last four U.S. Presidents.

    Speakers:

    James Muncy (chair) – PoliSpace
    Lori Garver – Capital Space
    Alan Ladwig – Whitney, Bradley & Brown, Inc.
    Courtney Stadd – Capitol Solutions

  • I’ll put it even more bluntly D. Messier: you and your kind of wordtwisting is pure politics without content. You are part of the problem.

    Oh, go fuck yourself. The American government is the problem, and the American people know that beyond any shadow of a doubt now.

    Scotty the whore can go rot out in Utah with the rest of the freaks.

    The VSE/ESAS problem is just a sideshow at the Bush carnival.

    The American people elected incompetant criminals to the highest offices in the land, and now they’ll just have to figure out how to clean up the mess. I’m not even sure if the mess is salvageable, but us patriotic Americans will try to clean it up anyways, the stench alone is enough to just about gag ya.

  • anonymous.space

    “It might even be a harbinger of big changes ahead (which would be a surprise).”

    My 2 cents is that the problems with Ares I/Orion that we’ve been discussing for months have finally begun to hit Griffin, and he’s rearranging his management team to compensate. Notice that Horowitz is not the only one leaving. Griffin’s replacement of Rex Geveden with Chris Scolese in the Associate Administrator’s position (also announced yesterday) substitutes someone with a checkered technical and management track record (Geveden was manager for GP-B) with a very technically astute and proven spacecraft program manager (Scolese held various EOS and HQ Space Science management positions). I hope that bodes well for the 9th floor coming to grips with and making course corrections on Ares I/Orion. I don’t expect Griffin to make a major shift to a new launch vehicle or architecture that will accelerate the timeline or create savings, but they’ve got to make some substantial design changes (smaller capsule, different upper stage, etc.) to close the system with adequate margins and get out of the technical trap they’re currently in.

    I’ve heard from a couple sources that Horowitz has been asked to leave, but he could still have a real family need (sick child, etc.) at home. That aside, I agree with Mr. Fansome that the timing is suspect at a minimum. Major Ares I contracts have yet to be put in place, and I can’t imagine that Horowitz (or anyone else so wedded to their own LV design) would leave, even with some family pressures, before their vehicle was locked in with those contracts.

    It will be most interesting to see who succeeds Horowitz. I hope for another hard-nosed, technically astute, and proven manager like Scolese. NASA doesn’t need anymore unproven managers from the astronaut corps taking senior positions in the agency.

    Finally, I found the discussion at nasaspaceflight.com interesting, especially the revolving door list of 14 NASA managers and astronauts who have formerly held positions as ATK managers or lobbyists.

    http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/forums/thread-view.asp?tid=8780&start=16&posts=29

    FWIW…

  • anonymous.space

    “In a world of threats to military space assets, global environmental concerns, and Virgin Galactic, will anyone care about NASA’s human spaceflight?”

    Worded somewhat differently, this is a very prescient question. If 5-10 years from now, Bigelow is running private space stations in LEO, Musk is transporting astronauts and supplies to them, and NASA’s human space flight programs are still fumbling around with the ISS and government-owned and -operated LEO transport to the detriment of any real human space exploration investment while robots on Mars and elsewhere perform real space exploration, will NASA human space flight become irrelevant? Will there be any role left for government-sponsored astronauts?

    FWIW…

  • Damn, another reason I wish I could attend this year’s NewSpace conference (the panel discussion being mentioned).

    Oh well, hopefully next year.

  • ColdWater

    If 5-10 years from now, Bigelow is running private space stations in LEO, Musk is transporting astronauts and supplies to them…will NASA human space flight become irrelevant?

    You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know the answer. With other crushing national priorities, along with extrication from the war in Iraq, U.S. government-sponsored civil space flight will take a back seat. It would be far more compassionate for the government to euthanize this part of NASA rather than have it languish on as a living relic.

  • richardb

    Anon, no I don’t believe everyone who has reservations about VSE is a Bush basher, my statement never said that nor implied it. I also like to think I’m not that dumb.
    Bush has been good to Nasa in a general way, by reinvigorating it after the 2ed shuttle loss, with a worthy mission. JFK was the last American President to do that in my opinion. I think the guy took some serious risks by standing up for Nasa considering his Dad was collared with Battleship Gallatica after he proposed a Mars program. Its hard to find past presidents taking risks for Nasa, wouldn’t you agree?

    The many out there that have a Bushphobia for reasons of their own(overwhelmingly unrelated to VSE) AND also wish to see Nasa succeed in the VSE may be singing the blues as another President, far less friendly to Nasa moves into the WH.

    Execution of the mission? No comment. The Horowitz departure is channelling some serious negative vibrations on that score isn’t it?

  • ColdWater

    Notice that Horowitz is not the only one leaving. Griffin’s replacement of Rex Geveden with Chris Scolese in the Associate Administrator’s position (also announced yesterday) substitutes someone with a checkered technical and management track record (Geveden was manager for GP-B) with a very technically astute and proven spacecraft program manager (Scolese held various EOS and HQ Space Science management positions).

    I really have to take an exception to Geveden having a checkered track record. In fact, he was the one who really pulled GP-B out of the tank. Stanford University is an outstanding academic institution. Unfortunately, its skills in project management are not as stellar.

    But all of this is water under the bridge now. Both Geveden and Scolese are exceptional individuals, and both have outstanding credentials.

  • anonymous.space

    “I really have to take an exception to Geveden having a checkered track record.”

    Fair enough. But GP-B still bled lots of dollars and schedule well after Geveden took the helm. It was more parochial Congressional commitments to complete GP-B at any cost than a change in management that allowed GP-B to incur massive overruns and still reach the launch pad.

    I’ve also been much more impressed with Scolese in my (admittedly limited) interactions with both managers, but that’s neither here nor there.

    FWIW…

  • D. Messier

    Mr. Forgets His Own Name:

    Gee, let’s see…..

    You blamed Congress for lack of proper oversight. Can’t argue with you there. (Although I imagine if it had done proper oversight of everything the admin did for the last six plus years, Bush and/or Cheney might well be out of office by now. Be wary of what you wish for….)

    You blamed NASA for poor implementation. Can’t argue with that, either.

    However, you do appear to absolve Bush of any responsibility for overseeing the signature space initiative of his two terms. I don’t agree with that. He can’t just delificate something and then accept no responsibility for when it goes awry. Bush does that far too often, and that’s what I’m saying.

    You want to argue that on facts, fine. It will be a very long debate, and I’ve got a lot of examples.

  • [...] Whirling round the internet, as I do, seeking out what’s going on I thought I’d give another round up of some of the stuff you could find this week. While quick disconnect couplings might not seem that fun NASA is seeking them for its Constellation’s programme’s lunar extra-vehicular manned unit portable life support system. For that programme Alliant Techsystems has been awarded $62.5 million for the Orion crew exploration vehicle’s launch abort motor by the new manned spacecraft’s launch abort system developer Orbital Sciences. If you want some interesting speculation on Orion and the possible requirements for it to have a titanium enclosed cabin then Chair Force Engineer is a good place to go. Something more down to Earth is the US space agency’s Glenn Research Center request for new avionics for its Beechcraft T-34 Mentor and you can see pictures of the aircraft’s interiors here. Meanwhile over at Kennedy Space Center Space Shuttle Endeavour has been moved to its launch pad for its scheduled 7 August start to its STS-118 mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Another flight to the ISS this August is Russia’s S. P. Korolev Rocket and Space Corporation Energia’s built Progress M-61 supply spacecraft. It will be carrying spare computers to replace those that failed temporarily during June. Back at NASA preparations are underway for the Mars Phoenix lander August lift off, while the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s DAWN launch has been bumped from this month to September. And finally, to read how US president George Bush made his position on NASA’s funding entirely clear, click here… [...]

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