Bolden: There is No “Plan B” In Development


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.”

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.

Sources: SpaceRef, Space Politics, Wall Street Journal, Space News

16 Replies to “Bolden: There is No “Plan B” In Development”

  1. Blah, blah.. Oh, I’m sorry.. What year did they say Americans will be back on the moon?… Let alone, Mars… Let me read it again….. Hmmm… Nope… No word for either…. This is a freakin’ joke… Bolden and Garver are just puppets.. They will go down in history as the blemish on NASA’s great record of accomplishments.
    P.s. Nancy, it isn’t just Florida politicians screaming, and you know it…

  2. None of this, contrary to opinion here and elsewhere, most of this is not Obama’s fault – though some seem almost gleeful to hang the tag on his shoulders.
    Constellation / Ares and going to the Moon again, was the vision G.W. Bush, whose true legacy of maladministration of the US economy has created the mess in the first place.
    Obama somehow has to keep all the obligations of the current space program and also fix the economy while still providing for basic requirements of population – which is beginning to fraying at the edges. He is stuck trying to sort out the problems but is being wrong;y labelled as the source of the problem.
    Clearly there is no Plan B (or even Plan Z), and as the NASA Administrator, as they realise the dilemma “we inherit what we inherit.”
    In the end, all dreams cost money. If you haven’t got the money or the budget nothing can be done until it is fixed. Planning for better days is sensible and prudent. It isn’t the lack of imagination here, it is lack of understanding of having to live within one’s means.
    IMO the whole problem doesn’t lie in the budget for the space program (or any other social program), it lies with the American people themselves. What are the realistic priorities of the Republic or do you continue with the delusion “we can do anything” but also at the same completely ignore the annual economic or budgetary constraints.

  3. Crumb has it right, not even a plan Z (if they knew what it entailed), would be hopelessly inadequate. They may as well call it “Plan 9 From Outer Space” for all the sense it makes! 🙂

  4. Well, this was interesting.

    Not that people start screaming their disappointments when Bolden and Garver is trying to hash out a strategy from the given budgetary frame. That is to be expected, and doesn’t mean anything to anyone.

    [Bolden and Garver “puppets”, indeed. That is a hypothesis way too early to test in any meaningful way anyway. Actually, their looking for leeway here indicates exactly the opposite FWIW. But only time will tell.]

    What is interesting is that Garver claims to have gotten unanimous information that there can be just one additional shuttle launch (with existing tanks), which explain why this option has been mentioned explicitly. That Moses haven’t mentioned a shuttle production gap doesn’t mean anything. In fact would be expected if he wants to support the shuttles beyond a neutral “we can/can’t do it” position. (And by his recent statements I believe we know he does.)

    I’m confident that when the usual upheaval of when dreams facing reality dies down, we will see that space exploration continues unabated.

    And continues in a stronger fashion. No longer will the US do things entirely on their own but will learn to cooperate with the international community on international goals.

    I for one celebrate the ISS life extension.

    Among other things it will allow VASIMR to be early space tested. And right now that technology, or something very much like it, looks like the key towards getting humans safely out of NEO when we are ready for it.

    Short travel times is the only way we know how to avoid radiation damage up to a vegetative state on longer missions. And it will reshape the economics of, and public interest in, such missions.

    Also, ISS will remain a key way station for the LEO space tourism market.

    Finally, it shows the international community that despite the seemingly insane way the US goes about deciding its priorities, it can at times be trusted to stay with shouldered responsibilities.

  5. It strikes me as a bit… precarious.

    We’re getting rid of our most powerful launcher in favor of commercial vendors (which could fold at any moment) to carry people to an ISS (which could fail at any moment) which we cant replace or even visit without foreign assistance (which could disappear at any moment).

    Everything is balancing on a handful of players and a single destination. If the deal holds together for the next decade, maybe this would be seen as a brilliant move.

    …knowing our luck for what it is, its a chance I wouldn’t have taken. Intentionally not having a backup plan is just plain reckless.

  6. I’ve got to go with Torbjorn Larsson OM on this one, for purely practical reasons. He says: “I for one celebrate the ISS life extension.”. Besides my great interest in the long awaited AMS-2 mission, a number of relevant astrophysical observations are already being made by other ‘unsung’ astrophysical instruments onboard the ISS. IIRC, the JAXA module has a solar and ambient UV measuring apparatus on the ‘porch’ right now. Let’s not let the astronomical promise of the ISS go unfulfilled, especially at this uncertain time with the world’s space agendas. Early problems with mounting experiments and isolating them from the ISS inertially have improved dramatically.

    The way I see it, we have an astronomical observatory ‘facility’ in low earth orbit that can change out, modify, upgrade, and repair-tend to experiments as knowledge is gained. Let’s capitalize on this scientific opportunity while there is still time.

  7. Jon, lets just hope that these scientific projects don’t get axed in the coming years also.

  8. I was interested in the original October 2009 NASA report by the “Human Spaceflight Plans Committee” handed to Obama as (the actual basis of this article) Seeking a Human Spaceflight Program Worth of a Great Nation. This document was made before the President’s current fiscal budget and decrees, and importantly explains NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden seemingly discordant “no Plan B option” .

    Much of it is interesting, and would aid much in the discuss here, but two point I would like to make;.

    This is what NASA says on Page 115 “9.7 Concluding Summary” (bold added by me);

    “NASA is the most accomplished space organization in the world. Its human spaceflight activities are nonetheless at a tipping point, primarily due to a mismatch of goals and resources. Either additional funds need to be made avail- able or a far more modest program involving little or no exploration needs to be adopted. Various options can be identified that offer exciting and worthwhile opportunities for the human exploration of space if appropriate funds can be made available. Such funds can be considerably leveraged by having NASA attack its overhead costs and change some of its traditional ways of conducting its affairs – and by giving its management the authority to bring about such changes. The American public can take pride in NASA’s past accomplishments; the opportunity now exists to provide for the future human spaceflight program worthy of a great nation.”

    Also in 8.1 “International Partnerships” pg.105;

    “Space exploration has become a global enterprise. Many nations have aspirations in space, and the combined annual budgets of the space programs of our principal partners are comparable to NASA’s. If the United States is willing to lead a global program of exploration, sharing both the burden and benefit of space exploration in a meaningful way, significant accomplishments could follow. Actively engaging international partners in a manner adapted to today’s multi-polar world could strengthen geo- political relationships, leverage global financial and technical resources, and enhance the exploration enterprise.”

    Since the US spend about one-third of the monies total budgets worldwide, it make sense that the future lies in co-operation.
    They also It also dispels the notion stated by some bloggers here that the US is making the majority of its funds to space. I like the fact that NASA categorically states;

    The principal disadvantage of international programs…is that nations are sovereign entities and, as such, can unilaterally change their plans – which can be very disruptive. Much of the international community, probably justifiably, faults the U.S. with regard to this practice.

    Changes like the ones discussed here show that the US is also not alone in damaging the long term goals.

  9. In the same report (as given above), the reason why Constellation Program was cancelled could by attributed to one paragraph on pg.59

    “The results of the analysis indicate to the Committee that, under the FY 2010 budget profile, there is likely an additional delay of at least two years, with first launch in 2017, and perhaps as much as four years of delay, with first launch in 2019. This suggests that Ares I and Orion will not reach ISS before the Station’s currently planned termination. Assuming a Shuttle retirement sometime in FY 2011, the length of the gap in which the U.S. will have no independent capability to transport astronauts into orbit will be about seven years.

    This is very telling, as Constellation would not support the ISS “use by date.” Under these circumstances, budget constraints or increases in the budget, 2019 is just too late for the ISS. Hence Obama’s decision forget Constellation until just before the ISS is decommissioned and NASA’s goals are redefined.

    The Committee’s conclusion is quite sobering;

    Under the FY 2010 budget, the lunar landing and surface systems will also be delayed by over a decade, indicating that human lunar return could not occur until well into the 2030s.

    It seems Obama has made an informed decision based on the evidence given to him – especially in these poor economic times in the US. Charlie Bolden is right when he says there is no “Plan B” – at least for a little while. At least it also buy some time.

  10. This quote from the “Executive Summary” (pg.9) referenced above, follows almost exactly what I’ve said earlier and in other posts by me;

    The U.S. human spaceflight program appears to be on an unsustainable trajectory. It is perpetuating the perilous practice of pursuing goals that do not match allocated resources. Space operations are among the most demanding and unforgiving pursuits ever undertaken by humans. It really is rocket science. Space operations become all the more difficult when means do not match aspirations. Such is the case today.

    So the whole shebang comes down to this;

    “Whatever space program is ultimately selected, it must be matched with the resources needed for its execution.”

    That is exactly why there is no Plan B!

  11. I don’t think that Bush had a vision to go to the Moon. I think he panicked to hear that the Chinese are about to send a human into space so he wanted to show of that the US would be better than the Chinese.

  12. We should continue on with program, we need to lead space exploration,we’ll fall years behind if we don’t and be dependent on the Russians and or China, just the other day, Russia program is failing and China put theirs on hold, sounds like Charlie is bought and paid for by Obama, after all the NASA budget is only 000.8 of 1 percent, how foolish we’ll be if we stop the manned space program, so much good has come out the Apollo program, skylab, and the ISS , think out of the box people.

  13. “Whatever space program is ultimately selected, it must be matched with the resources needed for its execution.”

    …And what if someone decides NASA should get by with even less operational money?

    The politicians with the purse strings will always have a higher priority until our loss of ability in space becomes a hazard to their reelection campaign. So if no alternatives are found we basically wait until they order us to go, at which time we’ll use the same tools and technology we could be using today.
    That’s not much of a plan.

    Compare this to constellation and cots. If the ISS failed or retired before the orion was ready, who cares because you were still going to the moon (…that big, shiny, convenient destination next door) with an option for mars (the second most obvious place to be).
    If the deep space manned program didn’t work out you had a massive payload lifter for replacing the ISS and unmanned platforms like Hubble. Then if any of the cots developers found a new way to access space on the cheap, you could move on with that new technology.

    Obama thinks the people that brought us Beal and Kistler will save our bacon from the hard reality of delays caused by giving too small a budget for the task at hand.
    Now I’m not saying it cant work. My question is if this results in a painful incident during his tenure, will he have the backbone to keep us on this path?

    Because this certainly wont pan out if congress and private investors tear our commercial vendors apart, limb for limb, whenever things don’t go according to plan.

  14. Starhunter said;

    “We should continue on with program, we need to lead space exploration,we’ll fall years behind if we don’t and be dependent on the Russians and or China, just the other day, Russia program is failing and China put theirs on hold, sounds like Charlie is bought and paid for by Obama, after all the NASA budget is only 000.8 of 1 percent, how foolish we’ll be if we stop the manned space program, so much good has come out the Apollo program, skylab, and the ISS , think out of the box people.”

    Stupid war cries to rally around the flag is not going to solve the problem. Your entire economy is mostly in ruins, the people are tittering at the edge of social program collapse, and yet the foolishness of seemingly many dumb-ass americans continue to dream of their utopian future. Charlie is not to blame, Obama is not to blame, nor is NASA.
    Frankly is the gross excesses of american people living beyond their means that have lead down the current path to the dire economic dilemma the US now faces!
    As time goes on what is becoming clear is the majority Americans are losing their grip of reality. You have been standing still so long that others are catching up or about to surpass you, and all we hear is bleeding hearts just clinging so desperately on to the past achievements for the glory of the Republic. (I.e. Apollo and Skylab, as Starhunter here highlights.) So pitifully inept.

    Note: A final point here is the ISS is an international collaboration and NOT an exclusive american one!

  15. I agree that the international nature of the ISS is what’s protected it from the same political forces that killed space station freedom and brought the Skylab program to an early demise.

    What would that suggest tho?
    That the only way to protect our big programs is to put them in the hands of other nations politicians?

    The political forces at home are very much center stage if there is any blaming to be done.

    The Science and utility of exploration don’t change. We can do things for the glory of our nation or someone else will do it for the glory of theirs.
    …But don’t to spin our unwillingness to push the bounds of progress as a healthy choice.
    In reality, its just another delay.

  16. Dear friend.
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    to restore your dream to be the FIRST human
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    I propose that you free Garry Madhoff, let him
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    money. Garry is very good at his job, he almost bankrupted the US of A?
    The money he can collect will garantee that
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    So please donate your live savings to Garry Madhoff and tell you family and friends to do like wise!
    Dear friend I wish you well on your trip to Mars
    just remember me for giving you a great ideal?

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