Is the Obama Space plan starting to morph into something more akin to the old Constellation program inside the Congressional sausage making machine? A couple of recent stories seem to suggest that Obamaspace may be withering on the vine.
First the Orlando Sentinel is reporting the Constellation manager Jeff Hanley is moving to save as much of the Constellation program as he can, in apparent defiance of NASA upper management and the White House.
“n an e-mail sent April 16, NASA’s Constellation program manager, Jeff Hanley, instructed his managers to “prioritize” all the resources they have at their disposal under this year’s budget to plan for test flights of prototypes of the troubled Ares I rocket that Obama aims to cancel.
“Hanley also orders them to look at ways to shrink the Constellation program in such a way that it can fit in a tighter rocket-development budget backed by the White House. The move comes as some members of Congress have pledged to stop Obama and save Ares.”
It should be noted that Hanley is following the law, passed by Congress last year, that mandated the continuance of the Constellation program unless and until the Congress mandates it otherwise. Hanley’s move also seems consistent with the evolving will of the Congress which, contrary to President Obama, is calling for an immediate building of a heavy lift vehicle and the development of an Orion space craft capable of deep space exploration. The Orlando Sentinel suggests, “Indeed, according to NASA engineers, some of the testing and studies are aimed to create what’s being called the Ares IV.” The Ares IV is a concept for a lighter version of the Ares V heavy lift launcher. The Ares IV would be capable of taking an Orion into deep space. Two Ares IVs, one with an Orion, the other with either a lunar lander or a long duration hab module, would enable a variety of deep space missions.
A story in Space News, an industry journal, adds so more detail to the evolving new program coming out of the Congress, with the assistance of some NASA managers and engineers.
“Meanwhile, Constellation program officials have been quietly evaluating options for restructuring the Ares and Orion contracts to create incremental development and test programs that would cost much less in the near term than the $6 billion to $7 billion per year the agency expected to spend once it shifted its race to the Moon into overdrive.
“According to government and industry officials involved in the effort, the notional program starting to take shape entails building and testing progressively more advanced Ares and Orion prototypes en route to the first crewed test flights around 2015 and a circumlunar mission around 2018, to be followed by longer duration jaunts beyond low Earth orbit. “
Senator Bill Nelson has acquired a billion dollars in extra money from the Senate Budget Committee that appears designed to accelerate the development of an Orion/Ares system.
During a hearing of the Senate Appropriations commerce, justice, science subcommittee, NASA administrator Charles Bolden seemed to endorse the idea of an incremental development program that would morph the Orion from a escape pod for ISS, as envisioned by President Obama, to a full fledged deep space ship, as envisioned by Constellation. Several members of the subcommittee expressed skepticism of the Obama space plan, however.
“I want to know if this is the program that the Congress and the American people are going to support from one administration to the next,” Committee Chair Barbara Mikulski said. “We cannot reinvent NASA every four years. Every new president can’t have a new NASA agenda.”
Ranking member Richard Shelby was even more direct to Charles Bolden. “”Your destructive actions toward the Constellation program will only ensure that members cannot trust you,” he said. “Mr. Administrator, you are creating an atmosphere where you and your leadership team have become a major impediment, I believe, to moving forward.”
What will happen to the commercial space initiative, about which a number of members of Congress have expressed skepticism, or the technology development program is unclear. Also left unmentioned is whether the Altair lunar lander or something similar would be revised to allow for lunar surface expeditions.
In any event, the Congress appears to be working its will as to the future direction of the civil space program and not entirely to the liking of the Obama administration.
Ares I backers work to save rocket, despite White House wishes, Mark Matthews, Orlando Sentinel, April 23rd, 2010
Obama’s NASA Overhaul Encounters Continued Congressional Resistance, Amy Klamper, Space News, April 23rd, 2010