Congress, NASA

Augustine’s “lukewarm endorsement” of Senate NASA bill, and more

What does the head of the committee that proposed options for the future of human spaceflight think of the legislation currently making its way through Congress? Space News put the question to Norm Augustine, and got a “lukewarm endorsement” of the Senate bill. “I am of course prepared to address ‘facts,’ and I believe it to be correct that the Senate bill comes closer to any of the options in our report than the House bill,” he wrote in an email earlier this week. He added, though, that “without funding over the long-term that matches the work to be performed, no program is likely to succeed.”

Meanwhile, some breaking news from the online publication The Daily Caller: “President Obama’s NASA plan meeting opposition on the Hill”. The article is actually a succinct summary of the the current state of NASA legislation, adding that as of yesterday no agreement had been reached in “preconferencing” discussions to reach a compromise between the House and Senate bills. Regardless of the state of negotiations, it adds, the House version is expected to go the floor next week.

Mike Thomas, a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel, doesn’t mince words in his latest column, starting with the headline: “NASA incompetent — or just lying to us?”. Thomas, who hasn’t been much of a fan of NASA over the years, focuses on the DIRECT launcher concept, dismissed by NASA when it was proposed a few years ago but now, at least in some quarters, embraced by the agency. “This means that NASA either is completely incompetent, has been lying for four years or is praying its last Hail Mary.”

16 comments to Augustine’s “lukewarm endorsement” of Senate NASA bill, and more

  • …“without funding over the long-term that matches the work to be performed, no program is likely to succeed.”

    That is the crux of the matter, is it not?

    No matter how much or often we space cadets whine, the political situation is that NASA will never get the funding necessary to carry out the mandates issued to it, CxP or commercial not withstanding.

    If the CxP zombie gets a CR, Ares1/Orion won’t be done until 2020 and the Congress will crow that it “saved” American HSF. Folks like Whittington and Windy should be happy.

    Commercial will happen despite what the Elon-envyers say, just will take longer. If they are successful, pressure will be on the Congress and NASA to bid out jobs in order to get any kind of space business done.

  • BeancounterFromDownunder

    I think that once SpaceX is flying cargo to and from the ISS it’s curtains for any NASA large program. The evidence will be too strong to resist and commercial will be seen as the only alternative for leo and heavy lift. I don’t see any proposal like Cx getting off the ground. That’s even if there’s a CR. Shuttle’s closing up shop, the infrastructure’s going along with the people and Ares 1/V is dead.

  • Ben Russell-Gough

    Regarding the legislation, the current reading of the runes over on is that the House bill is unacceptable to the Senate that that, irrespective of whether it passes in the House, it is dead in the water.

    With this in mind, one has to wonder what political calculations may be going on in the Representatives’ minds in this election year. Do they plan to pass a DOA bill so they can go to their constituents and say: “Hey! I tried!” Is this a bluff to try to sqeeze more concessions of the Senate (who seem determined on forcing through both SLS and Federal funding for commercial crew)? Or are they, to use a soccer metaphor, planning to kick the ball out of bounds until after the election in an act of political spite, thinking that budget cuts in FY2012 will make the whole thing moot?

    The ‘quick’ process (which the Senate’s staffers are apparently still working towards) is for the House to vote on the Senate bill + a few amendments to get it onto the President’s desk as soon as possible.

    FWIW, I like the ‘loan guarantees’ idea and would actually add it to the guaranteed Federal funds for commercial space development. That way, commercial companies are also encouraged to seek private financing with the assurance that they’ll get a government-subsidised sympathetic ear. Combined public/private finance might increase the speed of development relative to exclusively relying on one or the other.

  • …“without funding over the long-term that matches the work to be performed, no program is likely to succeed.”

    Given political and budgetary realities, non taxpayer sourced revenue streams are the critical missing piece to the puzzle.

  • I read the mike Thomas article last night and decided I couldn’t participate in that poll. Any choice presented in that poll had an ugly streamer that was not relevent necessarily to the choice. Pure yellow journalism!

    The undertone to the article read like Mr. Thomas believed all of N ASA’s funding should be cut. Which is certainly one stripe of politrical belief out there,; anyone heard how the Tea Parety crowd feels about NASA?

  • Robert G. Oler

    One feels Mike Thomas pain…

    The 30 years of the shuttle are filled with so many “what ifs”. DIRECT or at least the notions of rearranging the shuttle system eliminating the orbiter are nothing new…nor are ideas to use the shuttle stack to conserve launches…like on the space station.

    But what Mike apparantly is just figuring out is that the key to “senior staff” at NASA is to understand that the effort is all about “maintaining the program’…not actually doing much at all with it.

    Back in the “day” Shuttle C was the focus…and how it could toss up a fully ready “Skylab” type station was circling the wagons…I am pretty sure that it was Dick Truly when asked about that noted “even if we put it all on Shuttle C I would have to launch an orbiter very quickly to put the people up and maintain the station…

    What is stunning to me now, is not that Griffin is still banging the drum on his legacy but that NASA has never found a way in these difficult budget times to come up with a program to save itself which is 1) relevant and 2) affordable.

    A shuttle knock off was a path that should (if it was to be followed) have been gotten on after Challenger. We should have bitten the bullet and figured out that something different was needed…

    now its to late Robert G. Oler

  • Ben Russell-Gough

    @ Robert Oler,

    Re.: Shuttle-C and Shuttle-Z,

    It is something of a ‘what if…?’ for me, a favored passtime that does little harm. How different might have the shuttle program been if, along with the orbiter, there had been a cargo launcher with similar capabilities to the one currently being proposed by JSC? The ISS certainly would have been finished earlier. It is unlikely that there would have been as many ‘make-weight’ shuttle missions so that satellites could be launched from the payload bay. We may even have seen lunar missions with the side-mount delivering the lander & EDS to LEO and the shuttle supplying the ERV and crew!

    Oh well…

  • Robert G. Oler

    Ben Russell-Gough wrote @ September 16th, 2010 at 11:41 am

    there was a moment, Rich might still recall it, we were on our bikes together riding…when one just figured out that the entire management infrastructure of the agency was not all that much dedicated to what was done in space, but what empires/etc were built on earth…and the dogged opposition to anything that did not start with “the shuttle payload bay” sort of made it for me.

    At the end maintaining the program (now its Cx) has become more important then what the program does. If you look at NASA’s theories on how to explore an asteroid…it is just the latest effort at yet another Battlestar Galactica program…

    And like everything else in our country now the people who will get screwed are not the folks who made the wrong decisions, but the ones who do the work.

    Robert G. Oler

  • common sense

    @Mike Thomas:

    If you read this… I don’t know Isakowitz but when I read his bio I was really impressed and I thought this is my first choice, as if I had a say… Anyway I think you aptly describe the current state of the affairs at NASA when you describe the selection of the NASA Admin. The mingling of Congress with the choice of the Admin is outrageous. At this stage I am not sure what to think about Charles Bolden though. I think he did the right thing in the middle east for example but I don’t quite understand what I read such as HEFT. What the “heft” is that? Could not resist sorry. Another plan with no cash to support it. Even more ambitious than the former Constellation.

    Here is my crystal ball prediction: If NASA chooses to pursue HEFT, vocally (not financially mind you) supported by (any) Congress bill then NASA HSF will disappear. The gap will be in forever until someone will switch off the lights. Bottom line is that the WH plan is the best plan for NASA today. Plans are meant to be changed over time. Constellation died because it could not change the destination, the launchers, could not change anything.

    I think the WH put their best effort behind the plan if not the roll out. But hey we’re the nation of Hollywood so we have to have a roll out for the plan, never mind whether it is good or bad. It has to be spectacular so that the failure will be as much. But no. Constellation was spectacular and it ended without even a puff.

    So yeah let us support stupidity. High stupidity: The House. Low stupidity: The Senate. The choice is between stupid and stupid. Great.

    What is it going to be?

  • CharlesTheSpaceGuy

    The Orlando Sentinel has some of the best journalism around. Read the Sep 12 article by Bobby Block, and then the Sep 15 opinion piece by Mike Thomas. Wow!! What a difference!!! The article by Bobby shows that he talked to engineers, he understands the trade offs and difficulty.

    Mike Thomas just takes the easy road of slogans and ridicule. When those of us that have worked with Charlie Bolden read that he is “Ballast” we know that Mike Thomas has no idea what he is talking about. Charlie has one of the more difficult jobs in history but no one in their right mind would think he is ballast.

    Now we do have to admit that even the Senate bill underestimates the difficulty of the road ahead of us, but it is a start.

    Now we should all dream that one day Charlie Bolden meets Mike Thomas behind the VAB, with no press watching. Perhaps Mike would find out that Charlie is a warrior and a tough, determined leader. Not some dilettante who sits in his comfy office and makes fun of people who are do some amazing things in a very difficult environment.

  • amightywind

    You would think that by now Norm Augustine is thoroughly discredited that his opinion wouldn’t be news. He bares much of the responsibility for the chaos that has reigned at NASA over the last 20 months. Support the House bill! The only think lacking in it is a 10m core for the SDLV.

  • Vladislaw

    You would think that by now amightywind is thoroughly discredited that his opinion wouldn’t be news. He bares much of the responsibility for the chaos that has reigned at space politics over the last 20 months

  • Ben Joshua

    Those who are used to low energy trajectories, including Mr. Augustine, may be put off by the long and winding road of NASA FY 2011, despite their long DC experience.

    The legislative wrestling match, at times irrational and incoherent, is slowly and painfully shedding an inadequate architecture and business model. What replaces it is anyone’s guess until an appropriations bill is sent to the Oval Office.

    Space advocates of most stripes can see Mike Thomas as a sideshow. Certainly a lot of worthy efforts come from NASA below the radar, in aeronautics, remote sensing, et al. It is the HSF, space tech, commercial and robotics on the congressional game board, not the whole of NASA.

    Supporting the program that goes nowhere slowly might keep on a few more years, but a history of over promising and under performing, mixed with the approaching budget climate, might simply leave NASA with a virtual in-house POR, while it contracts for actual LEO services, with increasing frequency and superb results.

    That will be the NASA the next generation grows up with, and that NASA will more easily find the now elusive public support they sought for a parade of unsupportable proposals in the past.


    Augustine will bite on any bone tossed his way. He’s a savvy fella and sees what’s ahead on the fiscal horizon. Meanwhile, $2 billion a week in cash flows into the Afghan war. That’s funding lost for projects all across the United States… including our space program.

  • I got an e-mail last night from the National Space Society urging members to support the Senate bill. Text is below:


    NSS Action Alert:
    NASA Authorization Act

    NSS has emphatically requested that the House of Representatives adopt the Senate version of the NASA Authorization Act of 2010. See below for the NSS statement.

    The vote on this issue is now imminent!

    Please call your Congressman today and let them know how you stand on this issue and what you would like them to do.

    Call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask to be connected to your Representative.
    Or, use the following link to find their numbers directly
    Remember that telephone calls are usually taken by a staff member, not the member of Congress. Ask to speak with the aide who handles the issue about which you wish to comment. After identifying yourself, tell the aide you would like to leave a brief message, such as:

    “Please tell Representative (Name) that I support adopting the Senate version of the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 and request that he/she do so as well.”

    Also state reasons for your support of the bill. You may email them a copy of the NSS Press Release. You may also request a written response to your telephone call.

  • And here’s the National Space Society’s press release supporting the Senate bill:


    (Washington, DC September 10, 2010) — The National Space Society (NSS) is today reaffirming its longstanding and unwavering commitment to further space exploration and development, by calling on the Executive and Legislative branches to incorporate their various proposals into a Unified Space Policy so that the United States can once again begin to move beyond low Earth orbit. Congress and the Administration need to work together to determine the best path forward relative to our space program, including how best to leverage the necessary partnership between the public and private sectors relative to launch capabilities and how best to maintain a skilled work force.

    The NSS emphatically requests that the House of Representatives adopt the Senate version of the NASA Authorization Act of 2010.

    NSS believes that the Senates bipartisan NASA Authorization Act of 2010 represents the most promising of the options that have been proposed to date. The Senate bill provides a framework for compromise, which will be required in order to obtain the widespread political support necessary to pass and fund a set of programs that together will enable the United States to once again move beyond low Earth orbit. Significantly, the Senate bill seeks to make use of the work force and infrastructure made available by the imminent retirement of the Space Shuttle by speeding the development of a new Heavy Lift Vehicle (HLV), which the bill specifies should be in service by 2016. The Senate bill tasks NASA with developing and building an evolvable system which can incorporate emerging technological advances, and also demands that NASA and Congress work together to accomplish this task within a specific, affordable, and sustainable budget.

    In addition, the bill also preserves the primary initiatives included in the Administration’s budget proposal, such as support for using commercial providers to transport cargo and crew to and from the International Space Station, funding for technology development programs, and a firm commitment to science. Indeed, the Senate bill specifically authorizes development of in-space capabilities such as refueling and storage technology, orbital transfer systems, innovative in-space propulsion technology, communications, and data management. Although the amounts allocated in the Senate bill for commercial crew and technology development are less than the amounts proposed by the Administration, they still represent a significant increase in funding for and commitment to both commercial space and technology development.

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