NASA Administrator Charles Bolden went before the House Science and Technology Committee and attempted to defend the cancellation of the Constellation return to the Moon program. However some news was made about the now former manager of Constellation.
As reported in the blog Space Politics, Jeff Hanley, who headed the Constellation program for the past five years, has been unceremoniously removed from that post and given the job of “associate director for strategic capabilities” at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Even though Hanley will be “–tasked with keeping the center’s human spaceflight capabilities intact during the end of the shuttle program and the planned closeout of Constellation”, it is widely acknowledged by space insiders that the job is essentially a “window sitting job” meant to get the outspoken NASA manager out of the way.
The circumstances of the Hanley ouster are somewhat mysterious as well. The news was broken literally during Bolden’s appearance before the House Science and Technology Committee, In response to a question about the ouster, Bolden responded, “That is probably correct, ma’am…It was not an action that I took or directed. It would be an action that would be taken by the Exploration [Systems] Mission Directorate head, Doug Cooke, and Johnson Space Center director Mike Coats. I have been in consultation with them about that, and my understanding was that they were going to get together with him this morning.”
The wording if the response is somewhat curious, suggesting that Bolden, who holds the title of Administrator of NASA, was out of the loop when the manager of what is still NASA’s flagship program was removed from heading that program by two lower level officials and was only consulted after the fact. One cannot help but wonder if there is something more going on, that if the decision to remove Hanley was taken above Bolden’s pay grade, perhaps to give him deniability when the inevitable reaction comes from the Congress.
Hanley made no secret of the fact that he regarded the planned cancellation of the Constellation program with some disdain. Indeed he had been directing people under him to be prepared for some form of the program surviving. In that he had the support of the Congress, which has reacted to the plan to kill the return to the Moon program in a very hostile manner. By law, the Constellation program is still operational and will be until Congress says otherwise.
The impression is given that Hanley’s public beheading is serving as a warning to others at NASA and the aerospace community that they had better get with the program, regardless of the ultimate decision by the Congress, or else.
Members of Congress have not reacted very well to the news of Hanley’s ouster.
Senator Richard Shelby stated, “NASA leadership removed a capable program manager in its continuing efforts to suppress internal voices of dissent to their visionless space exploration plan.This action furthers an atmosphere where NASA’s leadership team has become a key impediment to space exploration moving forward.”
Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison added, “I am deeply troubled to have learned that the program manager for the Constellation program was removed from his post. The timing of the program manager’s removal raises significant concerns about whether NASA is continuing to implement the authorized program as directed by Congress.” Senator Hutchison will demand that the NASA Inspector General conduct an investigation.
Whomever ordered Jeff Hanley’s ouster may well have accomplished very little besides further alienating the Congress. This will ill serve any idea of having the Obama space policy eventually approved.
Source: Constellation program manager reassignment raises a ruckus on the Hill, Jeff Foust, Space Politics, May 26th, 2010