The opening session of the AIAA Space 2012 conference in Pasadena, California, on Tuesday was originally billed to include a “presidential candidates forum” on space issues, featuring representatives of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney campaigns. However, no forum took place during that opening session, since AIAA could not get commitments from the two campaigns to take part. “It turns out we had lots of ‘maybes’ and lots of ‘we’ll get back to you’, but by Friday morning of last week we could not confirm both being here, so we canceled that part of the program,” AIAA executive director Robert Dickman explained. (The problem getting commitments to participate was with both campaigns, one person familiar with AIAA’s efforts explained later.)
However, a top NASA official did trumpet the strengths of NASA’s current policy compared to the agency’s state at the beginning of the current administration. In a luncheon speech, NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver said that, in effect, NASA was better off than it was four years ago. “What a difference four years makes,” she said. At the beginning of the administration, she said they had “inherited the decision of the previous administration to end NASA’s 30-year Space Shuttle program” and that the overall human spaceflight program, in the words of the Augustine Committee report, was “on an unsustainable trajectory.” The current framework for NASA’s exploration programs, laid out in the 2010 NASA authorization act, is a far cry from the situation four years ago. “We have a very strong bipartisan commitment on the path that we’re on,” she said.
She also criticized those who have argued that the agency currently doesn’t have a firm direction forward. “Some have have claimed that we are adrift and with no clear spaceflight destinations and no plans for the future,” she said. “But nothing could be further from the truth. The perpetuation of this myth only hurts our entire industry and undermines our nation’s goals at this critical time period.”
As evidence of this, she revealed that NASA has recently delivered to Congress a “comprehensive report outlining our destinations, which make clear that the SLS [Space Launch System] will go well beyond low Earth orbit,” she said. “We’re going back to the Moon, we’re attempting the first missions to send humans to an asteroid, and are actively developing a plan to take Americans to Mars.”
This report is the 180-day study on exploration destinations called for in NASA’s fiscal year 2012 appropriations bill. The report itself was delivered to Congress in the last week or two, but isn’t publicly available at the moment (I’m checking with NASA on when that report will be released.) NASA, though, did hand out hardcopies of the “Voyages” report to luncheon attendees. This document, released in June, is derived at least in part on the work done on the 180-day study for Congress.
Looking ahead, Garver also said that NASA is preparing for the worst-case scenario of budget sequestration. The administration still believes Congress will “do its job and pass a budget” before sequestration is triggered in January. If the cuts do go into effect, though, it would reduce NASA’s overall budget by $1.4 billion. “While we hope for the best, we certainly are planning in case the worse happens, and it will come at a great cost to the space program,” she said.