A few other notes from Alan Ladwig’s talk Friday at the University of Nebraska space law conference in Washington:
Ladwig acknowledged the uncertainty that many have felt over the last year about the future policy direction of the new administration. “The space community has been a little on edge during the past 11 months, waiting to see what the Obama Administration has in store for us,” he said, calling the agency currently a “work in progress.” “The space community is not a patient lot, and we’re not putting up well with the pace, the priority, and the inconvenience of having to wait for the new administration to determine our direction and level of resources committed to the civil space program.”
Some changes might be visible soon, though. Ladwig noted that new administrator Charles Bolden is now free to make organizational changes and realign personnel in the agency now that he’s passed the 120-day mark in his tenure there. “We expect an announcement on that to be coming before Thanksgiving.”
Ladwig said that the upcoming decision on NASA’s human spaceflight program by the White House, coupled with NASA’s led leadership, offers an “enormous opportunity” for NASA to better align its programs with administration priorities. In that vein, he fired a shot at some space advocates. “You’d be amazed at the number of people in the space community that don’t quite understand that NASA is part of the executive branch, that we can’t just go off and do what we want to do, that we’re supposed to be aligned with what the president wants to do,” he said. “If you look at the history of NASA, I’m not convinced that’s always been the case.” He added that there’s “a lot of arrogance in our community” about choosing programs and destinations because they’re possible, not because they’re aligned with greater goals. That might explain, he said, why NASA ended up with $1 billion in stimulus money, while organizations like NSF and NIH got significantly more.
“This is an administration that does care about NASA, that is going to focus on what we do,” he said. “We’re hoping that when this decision is made, that comes through with the funding we need to do all of these things.”
In his new position leading public outreach efforts, Ladwig said he plans to devote efforts to developing “good, compelling rationales for the space program.” The rationales developed over the last 50 years all tend to align in one of several themes, from economic growth and national leadership to education and technology development. “Those are all good, but none of them seem to be compelling enough in their own right.” He cited as one example of something he liked as Krafft Ehricke’s “The Extraterrestrial Imperative” from the 1970s: that the future of civilization depended on humanity’s expansion into space.