Appearing before the space subcommittee of the House Science and Technology Committee yesterday, former Lockheed Martin executive Tom Young, a veteran of a number of space-related committees and reviews in the last decade, described his issues with the NASA budget proposal. During his testimony he made several references to a “plan A”. “A plan A is needed which is absent from the proposed fiscal year 2011 budget,” he said. “The availability of a plan A will facilitate informed decisions relative to funding and affordability of a human spaceflight program that will be in place for decades.” This “plan A” would be funded in part from the money in the budget proposal for commercial crew transportation, robotic precursor missions, Constellation closeout, and an unspecified portion of money planned for technology development.
But what exactly would “plan A” be? Young didn’t explicitly describe it, but his testimony suggests it would be a lot like the so-called “program of record” NASA is currently implementing, perhaps with some tweaks. “I believe the most logical path forward is to commit to a transportation system based upon the Ares 1 investment,” he said, with “consideration” given to evolving it into a heavy-lift system, although not explicitly mentioning Ares 5. He also endorsed Orion: “Significant investment has been made in Orion and it should be the basis of a capsule to support space station operations and be the basis for initiating exploration beyond Earth orbit.” Or, to put it bluntly: “Constellation should not be cancelled.” Later, in response to a question by Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX), ranking member of the subcommittee, Young said, “No alternative strikes me as being as credible as Ares 1/Orion as the basis for a space transportation system to low Earth orbit and to the space station.” Deviating from that program at this time “would be a mistake.”
Young showed a little more flexibility on where humans should go beyond low Earth orbit. On one hand, he stated that “I believe human exploration must have ‘boots on the ground,’” he said, expressing concerns that the Moon might be bypassed. Later, though, he acknowledged that “deferral of the lunar option may be required depending upon available budget” and that a human asteroid mission “may be less challenging and expensive” than a lunar landing.
Young also made it clear that there was no room in his plan A for commercial crew transportation. “I believe we are a long way from having a commercial industry capable of satisfying human space transportation needs,” he said. “The commercial crew option should not be approved.” He repeated that sentence for emphasis in his opening statement. Instead, he spoke of the need for a “national” system that combines the strengths of government and industry to develop human space transportation systems. He drew parallels to the problems with military space programs in the 1990s when the government took a more hands-off approach to program management, which led to major cost overruns and program failures.
“I do not think there is a sufficiently high probability that commercial crew will be successful,” Young said later in the hearing. “So I think we’re looking at decades with no exploration” under the proposed plan. Young then mentioned his seven-year-old grandson’s interest in space. “How do I tell him, that if this program is implemented, the next time NASA flies in space, he could well be 30 years old?”