Recently Lori Garver, the Deputy Director of NASA, sat down with the editorial board of the Huntsville Times to discuss the future of the space agency and to offer a post mortem on the attempt by the Obama administration to reinvent the space program.
Back in February, the Obama administration attempted to cancel the Constellation space exploration program and, instead, focus the space agency on subsidizing commercial launch enterprises to develop space craft to service the International Space Station. Another feature of the new policy was a vaguely defined development program that would create new “game changing” technologies that would enable space exploration in the undefined, distant future. There would also be studies looking into a new heavy lift launch vehicle, using a liquid oxygen/kerosene engine similar to the F1 that powered the Saturn V moon rocket.
That this new policy created a political firestorm is putting the matter mildly. After months of angry denunciations from people ranging from members of Congress to former Apollo astronauts, pair of compromise bills emerged from the Senate and House.
The Senate bill would preserve much of the commercial space initiative, but also would start right away on a shuttle derived heavy lift vehicle as well as continue work on the Orion space craft. The House bill would pretty much stick to the old Constellation program, abeit at a reduced funding level, and cuts back substantially on the commercial space initiative. Neither funds the technology development program to any great extent.
The administration seems resigned to the Senate version of the bill, though it expects that NASA will be funded by a continuing resolution, at least for the start of FY 2011.
Lori Garver, said to be one of the architects of the original Obama space policy, seemed to be eating humble pie at the Huntsville Times meeting.
“Garver told The Huntsville Times editorial board the administration “could have and should have” talked sooner to key congressional leaders such as Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa.
“Shelby has blasted the Obama plan in scathing comments since February, but Garver had only praise on Friday for Alabama’s senior senator.
“‘One of the reasons we are as far as we are (in space) is because of Sen. Shelby,’ Garver said.
“Garver clearly wanted to acknowledge the administration’s role in the impasse.
“‘We could have gotten off to a much better start,’ Garver said at one point.
“‘We had not well explained the issues with Constellation,’ she said at another.
“‘It has not been communicated well that the whole point of what we’re doing is because we don’t want to get behind’ other nations, she said at another point.”
It is typical of the Administration to blame the failure of one of its policies on their failure to explain it properly. One might suggest that it consider the possibility that the policy itself was flawed from the beginning.
Garver also hinted that it would now be up to Congress to merge the competing House and Senate bills and come up with a coherent space policy. This suggests that the Obama administration will be dialing back on its efforts to influence the future course of the space program. One also suspects that if Congress gets bogged down and falls on its face, there would be few tears shed by the Administration.
Left unsaid were any predictions about what may happen after the 2010 elections, which many expect to result in a Republican takeover of the House and possibly the Senate as well. Will a new Republican Congress attempt to forge an even more independent space policy? Will NASA suffer as part of the expected drive to reduce the deficit? And how will space play, if it does at all, in the upcoming Presidential campaign? These things are not easily predicted.
Source: Deputy NASA leader Lori Garver thinks stalemate between Congress and White House is over, Lee Roop, The Huntsville Times, August 20th, 2010