A Summary of NASA’s New Vision

(Originally posted on February 4, 2010 on the Space Tweep Society Blog.)

There were so many rumors and stories last week in the news about what was to occur on Feb 1st when the Office of Management & Budget (OMB) released the President’s Recommended budget for NASA for the 2011 Fiscal Year. I wrote my thoughts on course correcting our dreams to try and sum up where we were the weekend before the announcement and where I thought we needed to head.

For those of you who have been living under a rock this past week, Obama is recommending a major revectoring of NASA and the way manned spaceflight is conducted in our country. Here are some documents to peruse if you haven’t seen them:

The major changes are as follows:

  • Cancellation of the Constellation program; and $600 million in FY 2011 to ensure the safe retirement of the Space Shuttle upon completion of the current manifest. (For those of you who don’t know what Constellation is, watch this video for the pictures.)
  • Top line increase of $6.0 billion over 5-years (FY 2011-15) compared to the FY 2010 Budget, for a total of $100 billion over five years. (The $6B is allocated to commercial spaceflight development.)

Significant and sustained investments in:

  • Transformative technology development and flagship technology demonstrations to pursue new approaches to space exploration;
  • Robotic precursor missions to multiple destinations in the solar system;
  • Research and development on heavy-lift and propulsion technologies;
  • U.S. commercial spaceflight capabilities;
  • Future launch capabilities, including work on modernizing Kennedy Space Center after the retirement of the Shuttle;
  • Extension and increased utilization of the International Space Station;
  • Cross-cutting technology development aimed at improving NASA, other government, and commercial space capabilities;
  • Accelerating the next wave of Climate change research and observations spacecraft;
  • NextGen and green aviation;
  • Education, including focus on STEM.

A few initial thoughts:

So the question is, what does this mean?  It means that the President is overhauling NASA with a focus on research and development similar to what NACA was and attempt to develop a commercial market for spaceflight.  It gives the impression that Obama knows what he is doing with regards to NASA.  But, in reality – there are no executable plans.  They are all words on paper.  There are no guarantees that this will all happen per his vision.  Why?  Because Congress controls the flow of money to the governmental agencies, not the President.

Personally, I was disappointed in Obama’s rollout of his new vision for NASA.  First of all, the plan does not seem to have been communicated to the top leaders at NASA and each of the center directors.  Therefore they did not have time to put their thoughts together and a path forward to communicate the new vision with the NASA workforce of civil servants and contractors at each of the NASA centers.  In my opinion you do not cancel a multi-billion dollar program and redirect assests within an Agency without first communicating that to your leaders.   Secondly, the announcement was made on the 6th anniversary of the Columbia accident and on the surface (due to lack of details and plans for implementation) “seemed” to be an inappropriate time even though budgets nominally get rolled out on Feb 1st every year.

On a positive note, I’m very excited to see that the FY2011 budget extends the International Space Station (ISS) until at least 2020 and substantially increases the Human Research Program to work at solving questions like how to keep the human body safe from radiation and bone deterioration during long duration spaceflight.  We truly can’t go to Mars without having answers for these questions.  This year NASA and it’s International Partners will complete building the ISS – the proposed additional funding allows science and utilization of this unique capability in low earth orbit for the next decade.

*Comments have been ported over.

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One response to “A Summary of NASA’s New Vision

  1. You are a strong and highly knowledgeable advocate. So much of what President Obama put in his budget request comes right out of the HSF commission report. Which I assume only his science advisors actually read. It is obvious that he did not consult fully with Admin Bolden. He left Bolden stammering. I do not want to be negative. I have had my say in this regard in Moon Base here. Somehow, we (the space ex community) need to reach Congress. Additionally as for the private sector, new ventures are good, but the leaders for this effort should be the big guys (LockheedMartin, Boeing, etc) Thanks for this excellent analyses. I hope it gets read by all.

    @Xineutrino