NASA – The Rumor Mill

Following on the Tuesday meeting at NASA headquarters concerning revamping the governance structure, and Wednesday’s meeting between NASA administrator Charles Bolden and President Barack Obama, the rumor mill has been if full fury.

Wayne Hale offered this tweet: “Wondering if reports on Obama-Bolden meeting are accurate or just blather. No hard news has appeared.” To which Bob Jacobs, NASA’s deputy assistant administrator of Public Affairs responded: “Inaccurate. The meeting was informational, not decisional…”. Of course, that’s NASA’s spokesperson. Amy Klamper at Spacenews.com thinks “New Direction for NASA Could Wait Until February.”

Now comes Science magazine’s (AAAS) Insider report concerning the outcome of the meeting:

President Barack Obama will ask Congress next year to fund a new heavy-lift launcher to take humans to the moon, asteroids, and the moons of Mars, ScienceInsider has learned. The president chose the new direction for the U.S. human space flight program Wednesday at a White House meeting with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, according to officials familiar with the discussion. NASA would receive an additional $1 billion in 2011 both to get the new launcher on track and to bolster the agency’s fleet of robotic Earth-monitoring spacecraft.

The major elements include:

  • Elimination of the Ares I rocket
  • Recommend Commercial development of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) launch capability for cargo and then crew.
  • Development of a smaller heavy lift rocket along the lines proposed by the old NLS (National Launch System) NASA investigated in the early 1990’s and revived by the Direct Team between 2005 and today.
  • Addition of $1 Billion to the Budget for NASA
  • European countries, Japan, and Canada would be asked to work on a lunar lander and modules for a moon base.
  • Focus on being able to perform a variety of missions including Near Earth Objects, Lagrange points, the Moon, the moons of Mars (Phobos and Deimos). See Option “5D”
  • Additional probes to the Moon, Mars and and the moons of Mars.

Immediate blow back is expected from Senator Richard Shelby, who has asked the Inspector General at NASA to investigate “corruption” within the Augustine Commission. Shelby stated that several Augustine panel members were registered lobbyists who took “direct advantage of their temporary roles on the Commission to further their personal business.” This has been interpreted as a shot across the bow in the fight over Ares I and the jobs it creates at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Shelby’s state of Alabama. Whose bow it was aimed at is in question, and it looks like an act of desperation.

However, as noted in our Wrap Up report on the Augustine Commission, time is of the essence with regard to jobs and the retention of skills associated with building the 8.4 meter External Tank used by the space shuttle and the proposed heavy launch vehicle derived from the shuttle. If the politicians resist the change that’s coming to NASA, they may lose everything.

Denials to the Science Insider article came immediately from NASA and the White House. NASA spokesman Morrie Goodman said the article was “speculation.” White House spokesman Nicholas Shapiro echoed that characterization.