Several news sources reported Thursday that NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden had asked senior managers to come up with an alternate plan for the newly proposed NASA budget after members of Congress indicated they wanted to reject a White House proposal to cancel the Constellation program and hire private companies to bring astronauts to the ISS. But today, Bolden issued a memo saying there is no “Plan B” and that he only asked two agency directors to help develop an accelerated plan for research and development on a heavy lift launch vehicle. The lack of heavy lift capability is one of the big sticking points for many on the new plan.
“I have not asked anyone to develop an alternative to that budget and plan,” Bolden wrote, “and I don’t want anybody to do so. Rather, I have asked – and am asking – for input on how the exceptional talents and capabilities we have developed in our organization can best be applied going forward to advance the elements of our new plan.”
The proposed plan for NASA seemingly has divided supporters of the space program. Daily, there are reports on new plans being formulated by Florida legislators to try to extend the shuttle program going or keep Constellation alive. But Deputy Administrator Lori Garver said yesterday that the option for extending the shuttles has come and gone. “I was told by the entire shuttle NASA folks that, in fact, that time had come and gone. It was not an issue of money at that point, it was an issue of second-tier suppliers, there would be at least a two-year gap between our last flight and the next one, et cetera.” That situation, she said, was a result a previous policies: “We inherited what we inherited.”
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That doesn’t quite jive with what space shuttle integration manager Mike Moses said at a press conference at Kennedy Space Center following the landing of Endeavour from the STS-130 mission. “From a technical, engineering standpoint, there would be nothing stopping the vehicles from being able to fly,” said Mike Moses. “They have a lot of life in them.” He did point out that some second tier suppliers had shut down production, but didn’t indicate anything about a two-year gap.
Garver told a Capitol Hill audience on March 4 that she empathized with those seeking to save Constellation, but said continuing Constellation and pursuing the president’s priorities for NASA would cost $5 billion more per year than the roughly $19 billion a year the White House has budgeted for the space agency through the end of Obama’s first term.
“Think of it this way,” she said. “If you are focused on getting the Constellation budget continued in the future — and I harbor no ill will against those of you who do … but if Constellation is put back in the budget without that $5 billion-a-year increase, where will we cut the budget?” she asked.
In Bolden’s memo, he also talked about those who don’t agree with the proposed plan for NASA: “I find great comfort in knowing that President Obama has seen fit to put his faith in us to develop a game-changing strategy in our four mission areas, and that he has given us a $6 billion plus up on our FY10 budget as a show of support and trust. I fully believe in the plan that this budget has allowed us to set out for NASA’s road ahead, and unlike many of our detractors, I do believe it will very likely allow us to reach exploration destinations sooner and more efficiently than we would have been able to while we were struggling to develop the Constellation Program.”
Where will this all end up? Only time will tell. If nothing else, Obama’s plan for NASA has stirred deep feelings for the space program.