Obama Made Mistake Cancelling NASAs Constellation; Sen. Bill Nelson

Article written: 20 Mar , 2010
Updated: 24 Dec , 2015
by

[/caption]“The President made a mistake,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D) of Florida in referring to President Barack Obama’s recent decision to completely terminate Project Constellation from the 2011 NASA Budget. “Because that is the perception. That he killed the space program.”

“I know him [Obama] to be a vigorous supporter of the manned space program”, Nelson added. “But he certainly has not given that impression. The President is going to have to prove that when he comes here on April 15,” said Nelson. He was referring to the upcoming “Space Summit” scheduled to take place at or near the Kennedy Space Center on April 15.

“The President made a mistake” in cancelling Project Constellation says Florida Sen. Bill Nelson. Nelson believes that the White House budget office or Science Advisor John Holdren (sitting to left of Obama) urged Pesident Obama to terminate Constellation. Does Obama really believe in continuing US Human Spaceflight ? Answers may come at the “Space Summit” set for April 15 at the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Constellation was the designated human spaceflight successor program to the Space Shuttle program which is currently planned to shut down by the end of 2010.

Comprised of the Ares 1 and Ares 5 booster rockets and Orion manned capsules, Constellation would have sent humans flying to exciting destinations of exploration beyond low earth orbit for the first time since the Apollo lunar landings ended in 1972. The ambitious targets included the Moon, Mars, Asteroids and Beyond.

Sen. Nelson made his remarks on March 19 at a public space forum co-hosted by Brevard Community College in Cocoa, Florida ,which is the local college located only a few miles distant from KSC and also by the local newspaper Florida Today. Nelson was joined by KSC Director Bob Cabana, a former astronaut who flew 4 space shuttle missions. Over 100 residents attended the space forum.

Up to 9000 workers at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) are fearful of swiftly losing their jobs and livelihoods in the aftermath of the imminent dual cancellation of the Shuttle and Constellation programs. Tens of thousands more jobs will be extinguished as well in other states across the US.

“By saying they were cancelling the Constellation program, the perception is that the President is killing the manned space program”.

“The President made a mistake. He made a mistake because he did not stand up and lay out his budget for the space program and outline what his goal is, which is Mars, and how we should go about getting there for the space program. The President should have used the word restructure not cancel with regard to Constellation”.

Ultra Rare Up-Close view of Shuttle Discovery from on top of Launch Pad 39A after retraction of the massive Rotating Service Structure (RSS, at left) during my pad visit on March 19 as part of media photo op. I was in absolute awe to stand right beneath Discovery. The payload canister (rectangular white box) containing ‘Leonardo’ resupply module had just been hoisted up the RSS to support delivery of ‘Leonardo’ into shuttle cargo bay for STS 131 mission targeted to launch on April 5. Thousands of KSC shuttle workers will lose their jobs when the shuttle is retired by end of 2010. Will the shuttle program be extended ? Credit: Ken Kremer

President Obama’s cancellation of Project Constellation has been vigorously criticized by key members of both houses of the US Congress, including Democrats and Republicans, since the moment that word first leaked of the Presidents decision to kill the moon program announced by President George Bush in 2004.

Many political and industry leaders have harshly labeled this decision as an “Abdication of US Leadership in Space”, which amounts to nothing less than a “US Space Surrender” that will begin the “Death March of US Human Spaceflight”. They also fear that the massive job cuts will result in catastrophic devastation to the local effected economies as well as a swift erosion of the science and technology base across America.

“This is a tough time for our people because they are facing dislocation and the loss of jobs in a terrible time which is an economic recession”, explains Nelson.

Nelson and others members of Congress are pushing a compromise with the Obama Administration that would accelerate development of a new Heavy Lift booster rocket that would adapt certain technologies from Constellation.

The Obama plan does not include any specific program to develop a Heavy Lift booster. Instead, the plan vaguely mentions the pursuit of “game changing technologies” that would one day enable faster voyages beyond Earth says NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.

The fact that the Obama plan has not set any goals, timelines or destinations for NASA is the cause of what has lead to the vociferous denunciations. $9 Billion has already been spent on Constellation and a minimum of another $2.5 Billion would be required to terminate the project according to existing contracts.

The Obama plan relies on privately developed manned “space taxis” to fly US astronauts to space. But no one knows when these vehicles will be ready to launch. Many experts also question the safety of such vehicles. And a turf battle has even broken out between NASA and the FAA over who should be responsible for setting safety standards for human rated spacecraft.

“We’re going to keep a vigorous R&D program going for a Heavy Lift rocket and [manned] spacecraft if what we do in the Senate is finally adopted.” Nelson hopes that this new program will offset some of the job loses coming soon to Florida.

“It is my hope that we’re going to get additional work that is going to cushion the blow after the last space shuttle mission is flown. It’s time we get out of low Earth orbit. And that’s what we intend to do. But it hasn’t been managed the right way.”

“I hope the President will embrace this in his comments when he comes here on April 15,” Nelson stated.

Nelson believes that the president’s Budget office and or Science Policy office decided to kill Constellation. Better advice would have been to restructure the program, he said.

KSC Director Bob Cabana said, “The $6 billion more in the [NASA] budget over five years is a significant increase. And I think it shows a commitment to exploring.”

“We have known that the shuttle is coming to an end for quite awhile. We’re still trying to figure out the impact of the new budget on KSC. There will be a significant loss of jobs”, from the end of the shuttle and Constellation.

“If we can establish a vehicle testing program, hopefully we can buy some of those jobs back”, said Cabana.

“We have to focus on what we can do at Kennedy to retain the critical jobs that we need in order to be viable for the future. Part of that is transitioning low earth orbit operations over to the commercial sector. We know how to do that. Our job [at NASA] should be developing those technologies and those skills which are far too expensive for the commercial sector”.

“My role is putting the Kennedy Space Center in the very best possible position for the future to retain those skills and facilities that we need to explore space beyond low earth orbit when the direction is given to do that”, said Cabana.

Cabana added that part of that effort would be renovate aging infrastructure in order to develop a “21st Century launch facility” at KSC to make commercial space viable and retain some jobs for the current KSC workforce. Plans call for spending about $2 Billion on extensive renovations to the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building to make it more “modular” so it can “handle more rockets”.

Protestors outside the forum held up signs that said:
“Obama Lies, NASA Dies” ……. “Send Obama & Nelson to Uranus”
“NELSON SELLS NASA OUT” ….. “Clunkers 3 Billion $$ …. NASA ‘0’ $$”

The details of the upcoming KSC “Space Summit” are still not known with respect to the exact location, what President Obama plans to discuss, the format, who will participate and who will be permitted to attend.

Related articles by Ken Kremer

NASA manager says Shuttle Extension Possible; Key Issue Is Money not Safety

Successful Engine Test Firing for SpaceX Inaugural Falcon 9

Orion can Launch Safely in 2013 says Lockheed

Shuttle Endeavour Rolled to Pad; Countdown to the Final Five Begins


13 Responses

  1. Maxwell says

    I think it was a mistake, but I’m not sure Nelson has the right understanding either.

    America is a place of can-do spirit. We backed Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo because they were the fastest and most direct route to a goal.
    We backed the shuttle with the understanding that it too would achieve a goal of bringing space to the masses… but it strayed.

    What we want is a space program that explores, a space program that develops, and a space program that widens a path for normal people to get up there and take part. Its not impossible to have all three elements running at once.

    This is something that we could have had at any moment, but its taken the death of the shuttle to start the conversation. This is also something we could have afforded, but our politicians are more willing to spend twenty times the sum on a single military fighter than on the future of man… all because those jets will be built in the right states.

    Nelson is in favor of one system, Obama for another, but no one seems to be in favor of getting our priorities straightened out enough to really make something happen.

    I cant help but get the feeling that such an important debate is being headed by people with all the wrong interests.

  2. Hon. Salacious B. Crumb says

    Maxwell said

    “I think it was a mistake, but I’m not sure Nelson has the right understanding either.”

    Got it in one.

    However, Obama has far bigger problems to face than Nelson – namely the economy.

    For instance. the article ”The Spectre of Financial Armageddon – Health Care and Federal Debt in the United States” .appearing in the New England Journal of Medicine

    This paper says; ”The United States has a substantial, growing structural deficit..[For example] …federal healthcare spending amounted to 5 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) and 20 per cent of federal outlays in 2009 and is forecast to reach 12 per cent of the GDP by 2050.”

    Gulp!

    Now your current federal budget deficit of $1,400 billion, and when added to past deficits totally $7,500 billion. Right now, this is equivalent to some 400% of GDP – four years of hard work!

    Bottom line. You really cannot afford Constellation – at least for a while. This is what Obama has no option but to say this. He wants private industry to do the work instead of Government, so he can work off the debt and get the economy on track.

    If America doesn’t do this, it must either default on the monies (just like in Greece) or declare a national moratorium.

    Restructuring of NASA, reviving Constellation or extending the Space Shuttle doesn’t change the fact the economy and looking after the American people is the number one priority. There are few options – especially with such an unprecedented catastrophe now come into view on the horizon.

    15th April 2010 will not change this one iota!

  3. Torbjorn Larsson OM says

    A rather awful article, whether taken from press releases or not. For example, quoting “”space taxis”” for commercial launches (which then should include the current Russian service US buys) and questioning the safety of said “”taxis”” is a conflation of claims that tries to have it both ways.

    Now I suspect the article reflects what most involved parties wants to do, muddy the waters. Nelson himself tries to have it both ways, blaming the budget office or the science advisor, when the simplest explanation is that the program is more or less an adaption of a stripped down version of one of the Augustine report recommendations. One can’t take any notice of a politician with local interests in a topic that concerns a whole nation, and Nelson shows obligingly why.

    The cost of science and exploration on the US budget comes as always out as a red herring. US can afford this if it wants to, it is a minute part of the budget and there are less important parts to cut.

    It is not for an outsider to say what the US should do. But the current plan from Obama satisfies both national interests of the Planetary Society members who developed the groundbreaking scheme that the Augustine commission adopted (“flexible path”) and international interests who wishes to see ROI on ISS and less costly international cooperation.

    US can afford to do this alone. But why waste money solely on national pride?

  4. Greg says

    Finally an article which states what my opinions have been all along. The bottom line is that either the space shuttle should be continued or the Orion program started until private firms can prove they are capable of getting the job done. That may be 2 years from now, 5 years, or even 10. I guarentee you it is not next year. Also when China lands on the moon it will be a really good idea to have the capability to do the same thing. Without Orion there is no chance to do this unless a whole new program is started from scratch. All of the expertise needed to start one is already working on the space shuttle and the Orion plans. The cost of diverting them to finishing Orion is peanuts compared to what the cost will be to start the program from scratch 5 or 10 years from now when it will become obvious that the U.S. made a huge mistake.

  5. TerryG says

    There are no new technologies to be gained by reinventing the wheel and sending humans back to the Moon. It’s been done and the space race was over nearly forty years ago. Whether they can be afforded or not, more Moon shots just aren’t a priority and unless nostalgia and hubris prevail, won’t be the first item announced on April 15th.

    The local Senator’s announcement is there to fill in the vacuum between now and the April 15th, because it’s impolite to tell protesters and ex-Shuttle employees that the world needs ditch diggers too.

    Look for implementation of the Augustine commission recommendations, a commitment to international partnerships on projects like the ISS, more robotic missions to Mars and hopefully at least one new science project.

    Bets anyone?

  6. Maxwell says

    We went to the moon forty years ago, completely missed out on the fact there was water there (and God only knows what else)… but the two weeks we spent should be seen as an adequate time to explore a place far bigger than Texas?
    We obviously have a lot of unfinished business on the Moon which is standing in the way of other missions, and a hundred more trips to orbit and back probably wont resolve that.

    I think the current plan is short sighted and will only sit in place until either a new president is elected or an accident happens.
    This has been the cycle for over 20 years now and, unless Obama says something Blindly visionary on the 15’th, I don’t see that pattern changing.

  7. Uncle Fred says

    At first I was dismayed at the cancellation of Constellation. Yet over time I have come to realize it was probably for the best. More emphasis on the private sector to handle the shuttle runs to LEO can only be a good thing. If it takes 2-3 years for private companies to perfect their rockets then so be it. The US will just have to swallow their pride and ask the Russians nicely for a lift or two.

    Also China won’t be landing anyone on the Moon for quite some time. Besides, the US has been there done that. Maybe other nations may wish to share in the technological achievement.

    To me, the real loss is the cancellation of the heavy lifter. Think of the science one could vault into orbit with one of those rockets!

  8. Aodhhan says

    It was a mistake… in so many ways. Mostly in the amount of jobs which will be lost, which is exactly what he should be working for.

    However, all 9 House Representatives from Florida chose to vote for Obamacare. So Sen. Nelson’s friends in the other house don’t appear to be upset with the President.

    Will be interesting to see what happens in November. How many seats the democrats will retain after this pasts year fiasco(s). I’ve been voting for the Democratic Senator each time he runs, however after this year, he will not get my vote. I’m an Independent, so I never vote for someone based on their party. If they do a good job, they deserve to keep it. If they don’t then they should be gone.
    Perhaps if the Democrats lose enough seats, the President and other politicians will start listening to the other side a bit more.

    The decision to ax manned programs is short sided and shows President Obama makes any actions he can.
    He has definitely brought change to the US. However, he must not be aware of the fact: Nothing is so bad, that it cannot get worse.

  9. ryancole says

    This article does not mention is that due to cost overruns, Constellation has become a road to nowhere. Its just too expensive to proceed and will cripple NASA. To complete Ares 1 will cost another 40 billion (and climbing) on top that 9 they mentioned in the article.

    Furthermore, the heavy lift vehicle they mentioned, while not a white elephant like Ares 1, is not a wise investment either. First, its going to a whole lot more to launch than equivalent payload on smaller rockets. Well if that is the case, why should spend at 20 billion or so plus cost overruns. Basically we would be spend billions just to pay more. Dumb idea.

    Obama’s plan does not cancel the moon, or mars, it enables us to go to these places sooner, for less money, and with more options. It saves us from the stranglehold of NASA’s cost plus contractors, which are basically monopolies, made worse by miles of red tape, and government dictated designs.

    Instead of using a government directed system, it’s time we supported our own space industry by letting private industry truly compete for NASA’s business with its own ingenuity.

  10. Uncle Fred says

    I agree. Yet this doesn’t change the fact that a heavy lifter is necessary for large payloads. So far there is no plan to develop any kind of heavy lifter – cost effective or not – by any nation. How will we get our next generation behemoth mirrors into space?

  11. Starhunter says

    We shouldn’t cancel this program, the President needs to rethink this,it will our less to science and exploration. He is very misformed or just doesn’t care.
    We should be leading the way like we always have.

  12. TerryG says

    Agreed …but at the risk of wandering off topic, what exactly is meant by “Heavy Lifter”?

    The current heaviest lifters are in order of maximum payload to LEO,
    1) Ariane 5 (21,000 kg),
    2) Space Shuttle (24,400 kg),
    3) Boeing Delta IV (25,800 kg),
    4) Lockheed Martin Atlas 5 (29,420 kg).

    The least powerful of these will be used to launch NASA’s largest space telescope, the JWST (6,200 kg) to Sun-Earth L2 orbit in 2014. The now obsolete Titan IVB with maximum payload to LEO 21,680 kg was sufficient for the Cassini mission (5,600 kg) to Saturn. These are big payloads.

    These “Heavy Lifters” cope just fine for those science missions and with three to four times spare payload capacity by weight. If more lifting capacity is required, then the simplest, cheapest and fastest solutions are to …
    1) pay Lockheed Martin to look at adding additional SRBs to an Atlas V,
    2) optimise the amount of light weight components (e.g. Beryllium alloy ) in the payload,
    3) where possible split the mission over more than one existing launcher (e.g. formation interferometry rather the a single large mirror or dish).

    If however “Heavy Lifter” means something like the Aries V (188,000 kg to LEO and 71,000 kg to Lunar Orbit Insertion), then “Heavy Lifter” is code for the specific mission of Human Moon rides which, contradicting announcements on the April 15th not withstanding, are off the table now that Constellation is cancelled.
    This sort of “Heavy Lifter” might very well mean “White Elephant Lifter” without reinstating the Human Moon rides.

    The current crop of “Heavy Lifters” will do admirably for the foreseeable science missions.

    The glass is half full.

  13. Jim_33178 says

    Huge mistake. Obama could not care less about laying off 30,000 people in the middle of a recession and crippling our space program. His budget spends 159 BILLION on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and 1000 BILLION on ObamaCare-Welfare but can’t soend 3 billion to keep TIME magazine’s number one invention of 2009 funded.

    Congress is responsible for writing the budget. It is the democratic congressmen and women who need to be held accountable. Nelson and Obama are on the same team. Fire the team!

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