White House

Evaluating Obama on space policy after one year

Today marks one year since Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States. This marks an opportunity to examine what he has—and has not—accomplished during that time, in this case in terms of space policy. While the president himself gives himself a “good solid B-plus”, on space policy a more appropriate grade might be “Incomplete”, as many of his initiatives outlined in his campaign’s space policy issued in August 2008 haven’t been enacted or are still in the works—and on which we may see progress in the coming weeks when the White House releases its revised space exploration plans. A quick review of what candidate Obama proposed in key sections of that white paper and what President Obama has accomplished so far follows.

Closing the Gap (p. 2 of the white paper): In this section, Obama endorsed plans to add at least one more shuttle flight, accelerate development of the shuttle’s replacement, stimulate private-sector spaceflight development efforts, and “enlist” international partners to provide cargo and crew ISS transport. Of the four, only the first has seen any progress, and that was done by Congress prior to Obama’s election when the NASA Authorization Act of 2008 directed NASA to add a shuttle flight to fly the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the ISS; that mission is now on the shuttle manifest as STS-134. A further shuttle extension is being pressed by some in Congress, but the odds of that seem long. The other provisions are still incomplete, although we may see progress when the new space exploration policy comes out.

Completing and Enhancing the International Space Station (pp. 2-3): Obama proposed greater utilization of the ISS and enhanced cooperation in this section. One aspect of this, “consider options to extend ISS
operations beyond 2016″, seems increasingly likely to be part of the new policy, and does have some support in Congress. An interesting provision is to “use the ISS as a strategic tool in diplomatic relations with non
traditional partners”; that hasn’t happened yet, but there does seem to be growing interest within NASA in general about engaging non-traditional partners, as administrator Bolden said earlier this month.

Embracing Human Space Exploration (p. 3): In this section Obama “endorses the goal of sending human missions to the Moon by 2020″, something that seems unlikely now, regardless of the Augustine Committee option chosen, given current progress on the exploration program and funding levels. This section also includes a section examining on the use of private spaceflight capabilities for “lower earth orbit cargo transport”; this, again, will have to wait on the new space policy to see how much emphasis it puts on the private sector.

Better Coordination with Other Federal Agencies Involved in Space (p. 4): A key aspect of this section, as well as earlier in the white paper, involved the re-establishment of the National Aeronautics and Space Council. To date, though, the council has not been stood up, nor is there any sign that it’s coming soon, or at all, perplexing some space advocates. As Dwayne Day noted in The Space Review last month, that might be because Obama has simply decided he doesn’t want to have one, concluding he doesn’t need “yet another actor trying to exert influence on the president and make demands on his time.”

Emphasizing an International, Cooperative Approach to Space Security (p. 5): Although space situational awareness became a hot topic shortly after Obama took office, thanks to the collision of an Iridium satellite and a Russian spacecraft, there haven’t been major policy developments like the ones outlined in the white paper, such as negotiating “rules of the road” for space operations and taking steps to oppose the weaponization of space (treaties proposed by Russia and China on that have not made much, if any, progress in the last year.) Obama’s endorsement of Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) has translated into stable funding for the ORS Office this last year, although there’s still skepticism in some quarters about the effectiveness of small, rapidly-launched satellites.

Revising Regulations for Aerospace Export Control (p. 6): The white paper states that, if elected, “Barack Obama will direct a review of the ITAR to reevaluate restrictions imposed on American companies, with a special focus on space hardware that is currently restricted from commercial export”. While not complete, there are signs of progress. Space News reported last week that the president has directed a review of steps needed to overhaul export control, with recommendations due to him by the end of this month. This comes after an earlier review of rules involving the export of unclassified and dual-use technologies, including satellites and their components. Last June the House passed HR 2410, legislation that includes provisions directing a rolling review of the technologies included under ITAR as well as giving the president the ability to remove satellites and related components from it altogether (although still prohibiting their export to China). That bill is awaiting action in the Senate.

There are other provisions in the policy white paper that I don’t have the time to review here. PolitiFact offers an extensive list of space policy promises made by Obama and whether they’ve been kept, although you may disagree with some of their assessments (“support human mission to the Moon by 2020″ is rated as “in the works”, even as it looks increasingly unlikely that will happen even if the White House picks a “Moon First” option from the Augustine Committee report). What is clear that the president’s implementation of his space policy is very much a work of progress after 52 weeks on the job, although the next several weeks may provide new insights regarding what elements of that policy will be implemented, as well as when and how.

21 comments to Evaluating Obama on space policy after one year

  • RayGun

    “D” for Dithering.

  • CharlesTheSpaceGuy

    Sigh. Closing the Gap translates into opening an Unemployment Office in the headquarters building at KSC.

    Completing and Enhancing the Space Station means handing it over to the Russians – since they will determine who flies to it.

    Let us think ahead to 2017 – the Orion has announced another delay, and has made permanent the reduction to three crew. There have been no US crew members on the ISS for three years, and there are fewer Congressional members who have much employment in their districts that depend on space. Who will now be the supporters of our space program in Congress?

    Meanwhile, the war in Afghanistan drags on. Social Security is requiring large infusions of cash. There is an earthquake or a tsunami somewhere. Why should the American people support spending more money on space?

  • CharlesTheSpaceGuy

    Perhaps, to not just be a cynical voice in the wilderness – a proposal. President Obama could come out and state that the US will continue to operate the ISS for the next 20 years. Yes, 20. To get some benefit out of the billions that we have spent on it, and to have a laboratory to develop the technology that we need to go beyond Earth orbit. To do this, we would limp along with the Shuttle for a few more years, and aggressively develop a commercial booster and Orion. Some additional money would be provided for this, by cutting spending for High Speed Rail or something. He would personnally negotiate with the Russians to ensure thta we had at least one astronaut on ISS at a time. (Don’t think that this would be a given!!!).
    He should say that we will re-examine our goals when we have reliable access to space again. But the emphasis would be to regain access to space, and retain ISS as a destination.

  • Mark R. Whittington

    The idea that we can’t build Orion, some kind of heavy lifter, and a lunar lander at the same time is a crock. However, if Obama uses this as an excuse to defer (i.e. abandon the Moon) there may be an opportunity for a private/public partnership. Some company like Blue Origins or Armadillo builds a lunar lander and Bigelow builds a prefab lunar base. Might even be better than the all government solution in the long run.

  • Dave Cadman

    Obama will not make much mention in the coming weeks about the direction of Space Exploration; the budget will offer some insight, ie, an increase in funding for a HLV, and some increase to finanical support to Operational Science on the ISS, and for Robotic Exploration;

    But watch out for speeches by the NASA Admin; in the first weeks of February; there will be a re-direction of HLV development away from Ares I and V as they are outlined by the Constellation Program, to an Ares II and Ares V lite with a recalibration from 1.5 launch architecture to a 2 launch architecture; and the Orion capsule will be referred to as Block 1 and Block 2 configurations; the first being a stepping stone to the latter, which will be a Moon/BEO vehicle; we will be given a Flexible Path Architecture, but with the ‘possibility’ of a Moon landing by 2020, if funding for a lander can be found from International Partners for it’s development; expect more talk about Space Infrastructure, Common Standards and seed money for development over the next 6 months to 3 years; these will include Propellant Depots and Mini-Space Stations at strategic spots in GEO and EML points; there will be an element of IP involvment to spread the costs;

  • Mark R. Whittington

    Dave, I hope you are right about the architecture, et al. But I would favor a privately developed lander over something from an international partner. In any case, any flaws will have to be fixed by the next President, hopefully starting in 2013.

  • Ferris Valyn

    However, if Obama uses this as an excuse to defer (i.e. abandon the Moon) there may be an opportunity for a private/public partnership. Some company like Blue Origins or Armadillo builds a lunar lander and Bigelow builds a prefab lunar base. Might even be better than the all government solution in the long run.

    Mark, that is bloody brilliant. How do you come up with ideas like this? I mean, it would’ve never occurred to me to do something like this. I mean, for weeks its not like some group of people have been suggesting this exact idea. I mean, there was no government official suggestion exactly the same thing, and where by we would utilize a public/private partnership.

  • Obama should get some credit for commissioning the Augustine review. However, after the final report was published in October, Obama and Bolden really should have come up with a decision on NASA’s future and the future space architecture before the end of December.

    Obama really needs to start making more decisions– and fewer speeches!

  • common sense

    ” In any case, any flaws will have to be fixed by the next President, hopefully starting in 2013.”

    “there will be a re-direction of HLV development away from Ares I and V as they are outlined by the Constellation Program, to an Ares II and Ares V lite”

    “Perhaps, to not just be a cynical voice in the wilderness – a proposal. President Obama could come out and state that the US will continue to operate the ISS for the next 20 years. Yes, 20. [snip] To do this, we would limp along with the Shuttle for a few more years, and aggressively develop a commercial booster and Orion. Some additional money would be provided for this, by cutting spending for High Speed Rail or something. He would personnally negotiate with the Russians to ensure thta we had at least one astronaut on ISS at a time.”

    How do you guys say? LOL or ROFLOL? Wasn’t there a song with “daydreaming” in it?

    If this WH/NASA does not come up with a way for fixing the HSF considering they at least seem to be doing the right thing then there is no chance any WH will. The previous WH, for all its shortcomings, did the right thing with VSE and then royally screwed up everything after O’Keefe. This is what we are paying today. Take your head out of the sand and face reality at least once, at least a little. I know it’s tough but it’s better. Sorry for being so harsh but sometime…

  • Dave Cadman

    to Common Sense
    Sorry, but I don’t believe in Day Dream Believers; the fact is, I have seen 62 years of rough history, and read a lot more; this recession while bad, and the debt accumlated horrendous, we have been this road before; the Great Depression while it may have seemed to last 10 years, did in fact end long before the Second World War, and in that time we went from bi-planes covered in fabric, to the single wing fighters and the early beginnings of jet engine research; the German Auto Baun was a pre war invention; if anything informs our future it is that this recession and associated emotional depression will pass too, and development will continue; perhaps it is just as well that I didn’t mention this, your would really be jumping all over me ROFLOL!!!

    “but by 2015 at the latest, there will be a new look to Space Exploration, in that it won’t be a Nation by Nation effot, but a combined, shoulders behind a common wheel, pushing together, but having elements of national interest;

    by 2025-30 the Orion and whatever Lander is created, will have evolved into Space Vehicles, not returning to Earth; the lander will shuttle between a PD in LLO or EML and the Orion Block III Fleet, will shuttle between an expanded ISS 2, and the Moon or any place in the Earth Moon Space Infrastructure;”

  • common sense

    @Dave Cadman:

    Sorry but with all you’re saying above how do you really expect the development of an Ares II AND and an Ares V lite? Ths program is broke and dead as it stands today, that is what I meant. So yes to me what you actually suggest is day-dreaming. Of course this recession will eventually pass but the damages will be important and as of today this WH did a good job to avert the worst but it ain’t over yet. AND the political landscape will possibly change too. So no I do not see the development of TWO NEW LVs.

    Now please prove wrong maybe with an estimate of the cost? Or something substantial? Something you directly heard from NASA? The WH maybe?

  • Robert G. Oler

    My grade over all for Obama would be a C minus ON space policy one has to give him an I for incomplete.

    Obama gets a C minus over all because he has barely been satisfactory at keeping The Republic moving…he has not exhibited superior or average performance at changing the direction of The Republic from the course it was on which got him The Presidency. It is almost impossible to see significant change (except health care which is its own disaster) from the course his predecessor left The Republic on.

    In space policy…well it seems “clear” that the old path under Mr. Bush is going to die…I think that is dying solely because of “indifference” meaning that I do not think that The President has any real interest in space (most Presidents dont) or human spaceflight…but I think that his “group” figured out that the course left him by his predecessor is simply not sustainable for the amount of money that he wants to spend (or it might not be sustainable at all).

    What course is in the future I am not sure is determinable right now. I dont think it includes “great exploration goals”…one hopes that it includes “initiative” trying to figure out a unique path that truly changes the future of The Republic. Mindless exploration has no value to a people who are facing the difficulties that now exist.

    Robert G. Oler

  • Mark R. Whittington

    “Mark, that is bloody brilliant. How do you come up with ideas like this? ” Ferris, Actually I;ve been writing about ideas like that for nearly twenty years, likely longer than you have been alive.

  • Dave Cadman

    Yesterday, MSFC members and the Direct Team that presented the Jupiter/Direct Option to the Augustine Committee, met with:

    William H. Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator for Space Operations
    Douglas R. Cooke, Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Mission Directorate
    Phil Sumrall, Exploration Launch Projects Advanced Planning Manager, MSFC
    Geoff Yoder, Director, Constellation Systems Division, NASA HQ

    in a meeting that was scheduled since Christmas; they had a good two way exchange of ideas and there has been requests to follow up with more data and talks; while it is not expected that the Direct Architecture or HLV will be taken without some mods, it is expected that Ares I/V are off the critical path, as is Side Mount; there is no money for the first, and the second has safety issues with relation to the Crew Capsule being within a few feet of the ET and SRBs, w/ doubts of whether the LAS could be sufficiently powerful to pull them out of harms way;
    at the present time, the expectation is that a Jupiter like SHLV could be tested as early as 2014, w/o the Orion Crew Capsule Block I, that coming sometime around the 2015/16 time frame; these are estimates based on NASAs own protocols; this is NOT inside knowledge but public domain, at Nasa Space Flight.com; http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=19548.2025

    For those averse to going there, here is Ross T.’s statement after returning to Florida from Washington;

    “We had a very good meeting this morning with Bill Gerstenmaier, Doug Cooke, Phil Sumrall and Geoff Yoder.

    We will not go into the details of the meeting, other than to say our presentation was well received, generated two-way questions and answers and that there was sufficient interest that we will definitely be providing more information and will also be engaging in further discussions. I think I speak for all my colleagues when I say that I am very happy with this whole trip.”


  • common sense

    @Dave Cadman:

    Yes 1 possible Jupiter config. You said 2 LVs not one!

    Now a comment on this. Jupiter just may, or not, be less expensive than any Ares V of any kind but it is far from sure. Note further that “less expensive” does not mean “affordable”. See any and I mean any LV will have its own set of issues, and no it is not because of history I say so but because I’ve been working in this area. The real reason why we may go with a Jupiter vehicle is political just as Ares was. The only good thing about Jupiter vs. Ares, and I don’t know enough to say more, is that it seems to bee based on “real” Shuttle hardware which btw Ares was supposed to be initially. See things change. And that is that. So this would appease someone in Alabama you see. Nothing else. You may or not believe me.

    As to the Sidemount I already said that it was an unsafe vehicle right after the Augustine presentation so no real surprise here, just relief. I still can’t believe that NASA dared show such a bad design. Oh well…

    Finally you are assuming that the NASA Exploration/Operations leadership will stay as it is which is far from sure… Some of these people have opposed COTS-D and that goes against what this WH wants to do. So again we shall see.

  • mike shupp

    My own guesses:

    (0) Augustine II will be a useful doorstop in coming years. It will serve no other purpose, except to amaze and amuse our grandchildren.

    (1) NASA may get a $1 billion boost in the next budget, but it will be for (unmanned) earth observational satellites. Planetary science and astronomy is going to get pinched. Manned space flight will stay at roughly current levels, with the money that had gone to shuttle now going to space station.

    (2) NASA will lose about 25 % of its people in the 2012-2015 period; USA and other contractors will take larger hits, probably sooner. There’ll be enough pain and suffering (and job loss) in the larger defense-aerospace environment as military spending falls that no one will notice or care.

    (3) Ares I and Ares V are dead, Ares 5-lite will not be started. It will soon be announced that NASA will “study and encourage new developments” in chemical propulsion “until future requirements are determined.” A new large booster will be developed “eventually” — meaning no start until after 2020.

    (4) The US will “return to the moon, to stay” but with a team of international partners. We’ll build the rockets; THEY will build the moonbase(s), or at least pay for and build the modules we transport to the moon. This will not happen quickly (surprise!).

    (4a) The IPs will include smaller / less developed nations who can find _something_ to contribute; e.g., Israel, Nigeria, Indonesia. ESA will drag out its contribution until 2050 or later.

    (4b) There’s probably a role here for Bigelow, as a subcontractor or manager for some of the IP modules, and maybe for supplementary lunar structures (“pup tents”).

    (5) Moonbase will not be as cheap as initially advertised. Operating budgets will be higher than originally estimated. There will be arguments over allocating costs. There will lots of rhetoric about cooperation “in all environments” and consultation and many exciting opportunities for ministerial meetings and high-level exchanges in Geneva and Rio and other spacious sites.

    (6) ISS will be crewed until 2020, and possibly from then to 2025 with a smaller crew. Eventually repairs will cost more than anyone wants to pay and the station will be de-orbited. There will be no replacement.

    (7) Space propellant depots are not in the future — too little demand.


    Summing up, less facetiously, spaceflight’s becoming an adjunct of US diplomacy, one of the tools of “soft power” which the US employs to shape world affairs as it slowly relinquishes its military dominance. Barring any development of widespread public interest in spaceflight per se, I’d expect this phase to last another 40-50 years — basically until the appearance of one or more successor superpowers with their own agendas to impose.

  • Dave Cadman

    Well, as your moniker put it, it all comes down to Common Sense, and in politics that is often like honesty, the first casualty of discussions; there are still hurdles to cross, don’t get me wrong; but the Team, does not see Technical Issues as being the road blocks or speed bumps;
    in my first post I should probably have been more specific about the LV’s being of common core; my apollogies for any misconceptions;
    About NASA leadership; there is a fundamental shift in the organizational practice and lines of command happening; I suspected this when they gave the position to Charlie, as his background is in organization:
    Deputy Commanding General of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force in the Pacific in 1997. During the first half of 1998, he served as Commanding General of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force Forward in support of Operation Desert Thunder in Kuwait. Bolden was promoted to his final rank of major general in July 1998 and named Deputy Commander of U.S. Forces in Japan. He later served as the Commanding General of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego, Calif., from 2000 until 2002,
    Taken from his NASA Bio, I think we will see fewer ego – centered problems in the future; the people who met with the Direct Team, have not been open to discussions in the past; if I seem a wild eyed optimist, really I am actually cautiously optimistic in comparison to others; I could use the moniker Realist, as most of my hopes are founded on real facts, and trends, not just pie in the sky; in 10 years I may actually be seen as a pessimist; but we shall see as you so cogently put it; I’m off to play with my grandson; Cheers

  • common sense

    @Dave Cadman:

    “but the Team, does not see Technical Issues as being the road blocks or speed bumps;”

    Believe it or not but the Griffin’s team did not see any of that either. And some still don’t however incredible it may seem! They will have issues one of which and not the least will be the integration of a LAS that works, i.e. save the crew. As you can imagine an ascent abort will require the dumping of the SRBs and a fly off from the stack. A low altitude abort with the SRBs going full thrust will be something interesting to (not) see. Was there any analysis done there? Do you know? Is it public? And that is just an example of things to come…

    Now I disputed your 2 LV assertion as day dreaming, yes. There most likely will be one LV of some sort, be it Jupiter, Ares V lite or something in between. They will pick the one that makes most political sense not necessarily the one that makes most technological or financial sense. If you’ve followed what happeneed to Mike Griffin you know he is somewhere in Alabama right? Why is that so? What do you think? So again the Jupiter team may have a very reasonable offer for all that I know BUT it does not mean they will be able to make it a viable political option.

  • Robert G. Oler

    I dont think that the situation is as grim as Mike S says…and I find Whittington’s conversion a joke.

    I would like to see NASA’s human spaceflight ended as much as I would like to see the Senate Health care bill defeated (I am for single payer paying for it is a tad exciting but I think people like Rush Limbaugh should contribute “something” to The Republic…moving on).

    To me a “win” would be the following.

    The shuttle ends, the station goes on to 2020 or forever as far as I care.

    There is commercial lift to ISS in the US and some cash is thrown in to accelerate that.

    Massive layoffs at NASA…reduce it to a NACA sized agency that works technology issues.

    Technology issues…work on propellent depots (there is a use for them)…maybe some work on some new heavy lift.

    Exploration by humans…oh lets talk about that in 2018 or something.

    Robert G. Oler

  • Silence Dogood

    People don’t like transitions of any kind. When they see a transition coming here is what they do:

    1. Wish that it would not happen and cling to the past (daydream).
    2. Fight desperately for #1, even though the evidence is to the contrary
    3. Complain and do nothing.

    Seldom, do we see people who look change square in the face and say: “OK, let’s take this and really make something of it.” Let’s decide that Yes, we’ll take the changes that are to come and become something else.

    What will NASA choose to become?

    Will it wither in the face of people choosing state 1 above?
    Will it stagnate whilst its members fritter energy away in state 2?
    Will it degrade with the negative postures of people in state 3?

    Accept that you’re not the President here. Accept that you have little to no control over what is happening. I’m not saying be a sheep and be herded. What pays in any successful venture or mission in life is to accept the boundaries, the cards you’ve been dealt and play them as well as possible.

    I’ve grown positively tired of hearing about the technical details of all the different configs from the Augustine Report and those of you who wait on baited breath for magic to descend and tell you that all is well. That’s really putting too much in the hands of leadership.

    Acknowledge the reality of the leadership ahead and say: OK, if this is happening, what can I do to make the best of it. If you can’t say that, then do something about it that _IS_ constructive or go somewhere else.

    Do what you can to enact change where you are. If you spent as much time doing things to make your workplace better vs. reading and writing blogmatter, the agency might have a handful of vigorous agents of change who could possibly even do something meaningful…

  • common sense

    @Silence Dogood:

    Yes but.

    People need to express their frustration and a blog is easier than in front of a manager. I am not saying they should not talk to their management just that sometime it may spell danger for many. And you surely know that or you would not post anonymously (no problem here just a fact).

    So I agree with you to some point. It is your role then if you can or that of those who can to try and explain the current state of the affairs. These are tough times for many many people. I am not a fan of the current Constellation and I said it BUT a lot of people there may just loose their jobs.

    Then there is the advocates, without any engineering knowledge or enough to be dangerous, that claim what we MUST do and when and how. And that doom is all upon us if we don’t set foot on the Moon uh when? 2014? 2020? 2030? In my lifetime? Again one must try and educate them when they want a spaceplane coming back from the Moon or Mars etc…

    STILL these forums allow people to participate, or to think they are so I say go ahead let your voice be known. As to what the best architecture is, is it not NASA that is supposed to know better? Then again Constellation/Ares/Orion seem to disprove that…

    Oh well…

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