One of the highlights of yesterday’s National Space Symposium sessions was a speech by NASA administrator Charles Bolden at the beginning of the morning session. (His speech had been scheduled for Thursday afternoon, but moved up after the White House announced plans for a space conference in Florida that day.) It was unlikely that he would make any major announcements given that President Obama will be making his own space policy speech Thursday (only to have the White House release details of the slightly-revised plan at the end of the day yesterday), but many attendees expected—or at least hoped—to hear a better story about the new plan. They came away from the speech underwhelmed.
“This is a big week for the entire nation,” Bolden said in some comments not in his prepared remarks, “and it’s a week where probably more people than ever before will be thinking about space. It’s an important week for all of us in the space industry and it’s a particularly important week for NASA.” Most of his speech touched upon the basic themes of the new plan, including technology development and enhanced utilization of the ISS, that have been presented in similar forms in other fora.
If there was a recurring theme to the speech, it was that the new plan had the support of the president, who does care about human spaceflight despite comments to the contrary from some. “President Barack Obama is strongly committed to our future in space,” he said. “We are so committed that we have made the hard choice to undertake a challenging new direction. We are so passionate about space that we made the hard choice to step back from our current program and find a more affordable and sustainable path forward.” And a little later in the speech: “The President, with my full agreement, did something very bold. He made a change — a big change. He made the change that we believe is needed to set NASA on a sustainable course into the Solar System.”
But for those wanting to learn more about the details in the plan, or hear it told in a different and perhaps more compelling way, left the speech disappointed, based on anecdotal evidence: conversations with a wide range of people at the conference afterwards. Also, while the schedule appeared to have an hour available to Bolden to speak (a “Speaker TBA” immediately after his original 30-minute block was not in the final program), Bolden spoke for about 25 minutes, took no questions, and immediately left.