NASA, White House

Will a new space council work?

As John Holdren stated in his nomination hearing this month, the Obama Administration is committed to fulfilling a campaign pledge to re-establish the National Space Council (or National Aeronautics and Space Council). Exactly what form that council will take, and when it will be created, isn’t yet known, but the concept has the support of NASA advocates in Congress like Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) who believe the agency “becomes the handmaiden” of OMB and thus needs an advocate within the White House.

However, in an article in this week’s issue of The Space Review, Taylor Dinerman is skeptical that a reconstituted space council will do much to help space policy. He fears a return of the clashes between the National Space Council of the George H.W. Bush administration and NASA, particularly during the brief life of the Space Exploration Initiative. “The last thing this new administration needs is a protracted and unnecessary fight over space policy and bureaucratic turf,” he writes. “A strong administrator with clear guidance, and backing from the president, is by far the best outcome.”

9 comments to Will a new space council work?

  • John Malkin

    It seems redundant for the President to have a space council. Isn’t his cabinet suppose to serve this function? It’s all about setting priorities and time-lines that are unbiased to politics (nearly impossible). This would drive budget levels in a perfect world. So if the Council has no real power and it can’t set funding levels, what is the point? What is the added value?

    I think this and the NASA administrator shouldn’t be appointed by the President. It should be decoupled from the administration so that space policy can be consistent for more than 4 or 8 years. This isn’t pro or con the previous administrator but i was pro.

    State based space councils would be better at communicating priorities to Congress and leveraging state assets in support of a larger national vision.

  • Tangent

    A part of me believes the resurrection of the NSC could be a purely political move. During the campaign, then Senator Obama, seemed to pull a 180 on his space policy as he hit the “Space States”. Since, I have found his commitment towards space to be suspect.

    If indeed his position towards the value of the space community is less than stated, then resurrection of the NSC can be seen as working to fulfill campaign promises without any significant commitment. Also, should the NSC be reestablished and the hampering buearacracy resumes, the failure of the organization due to “politics as usual” shifts the blame from an administration seen to have tried to do something; the failure of “politics as usual” being a significant theme of the President’s campaign.

  • Charles in Houston

    A Space Council is adding more Chiefs when we need Indians! Adding more Tail when we need Tooth! Stop adding layers of managers, all in mahogany offices, and spend the money on testing.

    We know so many ways to make our national space effort more efficient but they are politically very difficult. We could eliminate excess NASA centers (the Shared Services Center and the Independent Verification and Validation Center come to mind!), merge functions, and minimize interCenter competition – but no one can do that and get re-elected.

    We know what we need to do – let’s get on with it and stop re-re-re-examining everything.

  • We could eliminate excess NASA centers (the Shared Services Center and the Independent Verification and Validation Center come to mind!), merge functions, and minimize interCenter competition

    We have a number of problems with our space policy, but too much competition isn’t one of them.

  • Davis Layzer

    let’s get on with it and stop re-re-re-examining everything

    Such that we can have the freedom do something completely and utterly wrong! What a concept.

    Also, this isn’t about efficiency. The Apollo program, in many respects, was HUGELY inefficient. An “efficient” agency won’t get us into space any faster.
    It’s about national resolve to do something significant in space. That’s what’s lacking. Where you have national resolve, efficiency doesn’t pertain much.

  • Charles in Houston

    Rand and Davis – give me some credit and look at the intent of my reply!

    Rand – we both know that there is competition and “competition”. When it is Centers scrabbling for pieces of the pie – competition is for bits and not to see if one can do it better than the other. I have been verbal in my support for COTS since they could resupply Station (as an example) more efficiently (caveats – once they are up and runnning, once they have graduated from their learning phase, etc) than could any Government operation. Competition between companies (or between companies and the Government when done fairly) is good. When JSC and MSFC bicker about EVA training pools or payload control centers – that drives wedges between them and reduces needed cooperation.

    Davis – give me a break! Let’s just not re-re-examine every decision! Sure we are going to continue to discuss options especially when the data was collected to support a preferred option. But if we are working on a cockpit upgrade – go ahead and finish it. Don’t “save” millions by cancelling a program that is well on the way to completion.

    Guys, at least comment on the complete sentence. I said “interCenter” competition and I don’t think Rand thinks that is a good thing. And does Davis think we need a “Really Independent” Verification and Validation Center to re-re-examine what the IV&V says? They just re-validate things done by multiple other Centers.

  • Ferris Valyn

    Charles in Houston,

    However, the point you raise I would argue isn’t really relevent to the discussion, since a New Space Council isn’t within NASA, but exists within the context of the larger government. It doesn’t change the relation within NASA, but forces more agencies, not usually associated with space, to start considering their role in the larger space debate.

    And I think getting cabinet agencies like the State Department, the Treasury, and so on to start actively considering space on a regular basis, instead only when an issue presents itself (like the gap) means we can have a much better developed space policy.

  • Davis Layzer

    Seriously, it could be that the decision needs to be reevaluated because it WAS wrong. I am troubled to say it, and I wish it were not the case, but closure on Orion capabilities is just not happening, and Ares I barely made it through PDR. ESAS was a rush job and, with that in mind, we probably got what we paid for.

    It is increasingly clear that the ESAS architecture was predetermined, and pretty much rammed down the throat of the US space effort. Again, I wish it were not the case, but we shouldn’t hesitate to call a spade a spade, if it turns out to be. Yes, responsible and vigilant policy does, in fact, require some level of continuous reexamination. The argument that we have to compete something just because we’ve been working on it so much only compounds the mistake of what may have been a seriously mistaken original plan.

    BTW, you sure do save large amounts of money by canceling a project that is close to completion if that project will cost you a lot in operations. We probably should have reconsidered Shuttle, in that respect. That turned out to be a space architecture that really, REALLY ate our lunch.

    I have no judgment to offer on SSC and VVC, except that this may be a mountain made out of a molehill. Programmatically, it isn’t clear that they count for a lot, unless perhaps your own Center had some work taken away by them.

  • I said “interCenter” competition and I don’t think Rand thinks that is a good thing.

    Actually, I do. A lot of innovative ideas from other centers have been quashed over the years because they didn’t come from the “right” center (space suits being an obvious example).

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