NASA – Deciding What the Budget Will Buy

Jupiter 130
DIRECT Jupiter 130
Image Credit: DIRECT Launcher

An article in Sunday’s Orlando Sentinel hints that two years after saying that the DIRECT project’s Jupiter 130 rocket “defied the laws of physics”, NASA engineers are putting the finishing touches on their nearly identical design: four space shuttle engines underneath the external fuel tank, two four segment solid rocket motors just like the shuttle stack, and the crew and cargo on top.

The design made sense in 1992, 2004, 2008 and it still makes sense now.

“It turns out Direct was right,” said one NASA engineer working on the project but not authorized to speak publicly.

Many of the engineers working on the shuttle-derived rocket favor building a new rocket with new technology and propulsion systems but said that they recognize that Congress is unlikely to give them the money or the time they need to do that. Under the constraints NASA faces, the Direct-like approach is probably the best way forward, they said.

[Edit 9/16/2010]

And now comes a scathing commentary by Mike Thomas in Wednesday’s Orlando Sentinel: “NASA incompetent — or just lying to us?”

Obama wants to dump Ares and turn much of the space program over to the competitive world of private enterprise.

He sees the future in companies such as SpaceX, a start-up venture in California that is developing rockets at a fraction the previous cost.

Nelson and the anti-government Republicans in Texas and Alabama want no part of this.

They want big-government inefficiency and all the wasted billions that brings their states. They are joined by the aerospace giants, which see their guaranteed profits and $100,000 shuttle tool belts threatened.

So here we sit. Ares won’t fly. Congress won’t give it up. Obama won’t fund it. NASA is devoid of a strong leader to break the logjam.

And this takes us back to Direct’s Jupiter.

The rocket that NASA once said was not physically capable of flight has now become a NASA option.

“It turns out Direct was right,” a NASA engineer working on the project told the Orlando Sentinel this week.

Now they tell us? This means that NASA either is completely incompetent, has been lying for four years or is praying its last Hail Mary.

Yikes

For previous commentary here, see the following:

Fail

Ever since I met Wayne Hale last Summer at the Augustine Commission hearings in Cocoa Beach, Florida, I have been a fan.

NSS Phoenix lists his blog among our favorite sites to visit for in depth statements about what is true in the extremely dangerous world of space exploration.

So what is it about STS-77 that so impressed Wayne Hale, his first mission as Lead Flight Director, in charge of the planning and development for the flight as well as the actual execution? It was, as he later learned to his own surprise, the possibility of failure:

Try something. Be bold, revolutionary, even game changing. Just don’t be surprised if you have to pick yourself up off the ground and dust off your pants from time to time. It’s the American way.

One experiment consisted of a small cylindrical sub satellite, which included a couple of permanent magnets. The entire experiment consisted of using those magnets to align the satellite with the earth’s magnetic field; a very passive way to provide attitude control for small satellites. The plan was to kick the satellite out, with a lot of wobble – clearly out of control, fly away for a day, come back, and observe how stable the satellite had become.

Well, the shuttle came back, and the wobble was a bit better. Another day, another dollar, and a bit less wobble. In the end, the experiment was judged a failure. Fail. But, we learned something. Science is a success whether the answer is yes or no.

Did I tell you that STS-77 still holds the record for the most number of rendezvous operations of any space flight? The crew got really good at those procedures.

Then next test was the Inflatable Antenna Experiment (IAE). Pop it into space, push the button and instantly you would have a huge antenna. It created a stable shape, but tumbled end over end, which could not be controlled. Further, the “lens” was fluttering, unable to “see” anything. Fail.

Did I mention that STS-77 still holds the record for the most number of rendezvous executed by any single space mission?

So kudos to Space-X today. They, like all of us, have had their share of failure. Which means they learned something. An inaugural flight by a two stage rocket that achieves an Earth orbit is remarkable. The Atlas missile in the 1950’s, waited until launch #13 to achieve its first completely successful flight.

Clearly failure leads to success.

NASA – The New Course – Charles Bolden at the National Press Club

The National Press Club on NASA TV.

John Holdren introduces the implications of the new course based on NASA’s 2011 budget and Charles Bolden.

Bolden is speaking. NASA’s way forward. Thanks the teams that have worked Constellation for many years.

NASA will now be on a sustainable course.

We want to increase our understanding of the Earth and the Solar System.

A new path for exploring and living in space. $6 Billion in new funds for technology and research.

We have experienced a slow erosion of science missions within NASA. Therefore, this administration needs to re-baseline the science and other missions. 30 % increase in science. 60% increase in Earth science research.

Commercial partnerships with industry to produce safe reliable redundant access to low Earth orbit.

NASA’s role is to catalyze commercial operations and markets.

Industry already launches all our military and national security satellites. They also launch the high value commercial and civilian satellites and spacecraft.

Therefore, NASA is not putting its trust in unproven companies.

Commercial access to space and our international partners. This will let NASA focus on its key role of research on cutting edge technology.

Today, we will have SpaceX and Orbital discuss their roles with NASA. We will also introduce the five companies to whom we just awarded contracts for development:

  • Blue Origin of Kent, Washington. Robert Millman. Pusher Escape System. Composite Pressure Vessel.
  • The Boeing Company of Houston, Texas. Brewster Shaw. Partnership with Bigelow. System of cargo and crew transportation for commercial and NASA.
  • Paragon Space Development Corporation of Tucson, Arizona. Jane Poynter. Developing turnkey system for use on any spacecraft.
  • Sierra Nevada Corporation of Louisville, Colorado. Mark Sirangelo. Concept based on the HL20.
  • United Launch Alliance of Centennial, Colorado. Mike Gass. Emergency protection system for Atlas and Delta rockets.
  • Orbital Systems. David Thompson. Private cargo systems within the next year.
  • Space X. Ken Bowersox. Cargo to ISS
Seven Commercial Partners
Credit: NASA TV
The Seven Commercial Partners

Q & A.

1. Goals? What is the timetable and the architecture?

More than a couple weeks but less than years to create the plans. The Moon, Mars, Asteroids are the logical destinations.

2. In orbit fueling? Primary or from Earth?

Being able to launch with a lighter vehicle. The problem is getting out of the gravity well. However, game changing technology: ion engines, VASIMR. Facilitate public discussion on goals and methods.

3. We are abandoning human space flight to the Chinese and others?

We are still the nation with whom everyone wants to partner. We are not abandoning human space flight. We will likely get there quicker than most people think.

4. Columbia accident board. NASA was stretched to thin? Lack of a National mandate?

Apollo 1. Challenger. Columbia. Continuing reminders. Take advantage of technology for destinations as it becomes available.

5. How to keep on budget?

Be a realistic dreamer. But plan to the budget, not try and budget for the plan. We have sufficient funds for what we want to do.

6. Astronauts on commercial vehicles? 60% of astronauts against commercial?

Stick with us if you can. If its not exciting enough, we will help you find your passion. And bear with them.

7. Involvement of Russian companies in partnerships?

Conversation yesterday with Anatoliy Permanov head of the Russian Space Agency Russia will remain a firm partner. Soyuz is excellent. But we will be without redundancy. Retirement of shuttle is the correct thing to do.

8. Job creation in commercial industry?

The more money our new partners receive, the more jobs. But there will be jobs lost and jobs gained. $6 Billion in new funds will translate to jobs.

END.

NASA – The New Course – Liveblog Gen. Charles Bolden (ret.) Press Conference

The Budget

The complete 2011 Federal Budget was released at 8:00 AM Phoenix (10:00 AM EST), including the NASA budget. Highlights from the NASA section:

  • Adds $6 billion to NASA’s budget over five years and draws upon American ingenuity to enable us to embark on an ambitious 21st Century program of human space exploration.
  • Initiates flagship exploration technology development and demonstration programs of “gamechanging” technologies that will increase the reach and reduce the costs of future human space exploration as well as other NASA, government, and commercial space activities.
  • Embraces the commercial space industry and the thousands of new jobs that it can create by contracting with American companies to provide astronaut transportation to the Space Station—thus reducing the risk of relying exclusively on foreign crew transport capabilities.
  • Ends NASA’s Constellation program, which was planning to use an approach similar to the Apollo program to return astronauts back to the Moon 50 years after that program’s triumphs. An independent panel found that Constellation was years behind schedule and would require large budget increases to land even a handful of astronauts back on the Moon before 2030. Instead, we are launching a bold new effort that invests in American ingenuity for developing more capable and innovative technologies for future space exploration.
  • Extends the International Space Station and enhances its utilization, bringing nations together in a common pursuit of knowledge and excellence in space.
  • Enhances the Nation’s global climate change research and monitoring system, including reflight of a satellite that will help identify global carbon sources and sinks.
  • Provides for a robust program of robotic solar system exploration and new astronomical observatories, including a probe that will fly through the Sun’s atmosphere and an expanded effort to detect potentially hazardous asteroids.
  • Revitalizes and realigns NASA to put in place the right workforce and facilities to function as an efficient 21st Century research and development agency.

The NASA Overview (pdf) specifically states that:

Research and development to support future heavy-lift rocket systems that will increase the capability of future exploration architectures with significantly lower operations costs than current systems—potentially taking us farther and faster into space.

In the full budget, under Terminations, Reductions and Savings (p. 18):

The Administration proposes to cancel the Constellation Systems program intended to return astronauts to the Moon by 2020 and replaces it with a bold new approach that embraces the commercial space industry, forges international partnerships, and develops the game-changing technologies needed to set the stage for a revitalized human space flight program and embark on a 21st Century program of space exploration.

Now the question is how this actually translates into programs. Does the HLV quote mean a Shuttle Derived Launch Vehicle ready to give American astronauts access to the ISS by 2014/2015? Or, does the “set the stage for a revitalized human space flight program” quote mean that Human Space Flight by America has been kicked down the road for a decade while Research and Development figure out if we can do it?

In reports from other sources:

  • The Business Standard of India quotes Obama’s budget chief Peter Orszag as telling reporters “We are cancelling the program, not delaying it”, with regard to the Constellation program and a return to the Moon. The report states that “the administration will instead direct NASA to turn to long-range research and development which could eventually lead to a manned space program to Mars, a senior US official said.”

The Press Conference

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Chief Financial Officer Beth Robinson will brief reporters about the agency’s fiscal year 2011 budget during a teleconference at 10:30 PM Phoenix (12:30 PM EST), which will carried in audio only at http://www.nasa.gov/news/media/newsaudio/index.html.

If it is as carefully scripted as the Budget, we may know little more than what is apparent so far. We will see if there are questions from reporters, and if so, whether any of the questions are meaningful.

Bolden has begun speaking. His first significant note is that over the next five (5) years the NASA budget will be increased by $6 Billion.

The ISS will continue to 2020 and beyond in cooperation with our International Partners.

Collaboration with our partners to build the technology for missions to Mars that takes weeks, rather than months.

Commitment to green aeronautical research.

The Constellation program would not get us back to the Moon. So this budget cancels Ares I, Ares V and Orion. We were neglecting investments in key tech to get beyond moon.

The Augustine Commission has given us significant goals which this administration seeks to achieve.

Through an open competition, NASA has awarded Space Act Agreements for the development of crew concepts, technology demonstrations, and investigations for future commercial support of human spaceflight to:

  • Blue Origin of Kent, Washington
  • The Boeing Company of Houston, Texas
  • Paragon Space Development Corporation of Tucson, Arizona
  • Sierra Nevada Corporation of Louisville, Colorado
  • United Launch Alliance of Centennial, Colorado

We will be discussing these awards in more detail, and introducing you to the space pioneers behind them tomorrow at our event at the National Press Club.

We intend to make full use of the International Space Station. There is so much to know before we move out of Low Earth Orbit.

NASA will fly out the remaining five flights of the Shuttle. NASA will have funds for 2011 if the shuttle schedule slips.

Lori Garver is now speaking.

Heavy Lift Vehicle R&D budget is very robust. It is not for a restacking of existing technologies. Constellation provided no real development funding for HLV until 2016, only research until that time. Now, beyond LEO with HLV on a timetable faster than Ares V.

Looking at flagship missions, that they are going to design over the next couple of months. Don’t want to relive the mistakes of the past.

Commercial competition will see industry define the vehicles and time lines for crew and cargo. They will tell us what they can provide. Expects bids on previous investments. Orion may come back as part of a commercial bid. Propellant Depots are in the mix.

[Ed] Reading between the lines, it may well be that Boeing / ULA or others will bid a Shuttle Derived Heavy Lift Vehicle using existing Shuttle Assets. In any case, the budget goes to Congress, and there will be much blood on the sand before this is over.[/Ed].

NASA – The New Course

Monday we will know for sure.

In February 2009, Popular Mechanics published “Frustrated Engineers Battle with NASA over the Future of Spaceflight“. The Rebel Alliance and their plan to kill Ares I and bring down the Evil Emperor had a peculiar beginning back in 2006. According to PM:

Tierney wondered whether the Ares I is really the best way to keep the U.S. in the spaceflight business. What if, instead of building a largely new rocket, NASA created a new configuration of proven space shuttle components and placed a crew capsule on top? Sitting on his living room couch, hunched over a laptop computer, he posted the question to the chat room. A dozen replies came back supporting the idea. “I was shocked,” Tierney recalls. “Here I was, just a nobody enthusiast asking a dumb question, and a bunch of NASA engineers are telling me I was absolutely right. They said they’d been pushing the same thing for years and that they’d been threatened with their jobs if they kept talking about it.”

It was crazy in 2006. Is it crazy now? DIRECT advocates the resurrection of the National Launch System (NLS). You can play their animation showing the transition from Shuttle Parts to Jupiter Parts.

The NLS proposed to use the shuttle External Tank (ET), the Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSME) and the two Solid Rocket Boosters (SRB) as a cargo rocket with three times the capacity of the Shuttle itself, but was abandoned by Congress because the cost to operate two rocket systems was too high. Following the loss of Columbia, and the determination that the aging Shuttle fleet should be retired, NASA set about planning for the future. NASA engineers resurrected the NLS concept of reusing the existing Shuttle components, but were overruled by then Administrator Griffin. Instead, NASA was set on a course to develop two brand new rockets: Ares I and Ares V.

Now, Popular Mechanics may well have scooped the “regurgitation media”, the ghosts of investigative journalism of long past years, who now only copy each others rumors about bad news, hoping to sell advertising. On Friday, 29 January 2010, Popular Mechanics published “Rebel Engineers Sit With NASA to Chart Future of Manned Space“.

The sub-title is:

Moonlighting engineers get their say at a secret NASA meeting—and dish hints of what NASA’s future rockets might look like after the massive shake-up of manned spaceflight programs.

Popular Mechanics reports that NASA administrator Charles Bolden ordered NASA human spaceflight boss Bill Gerstenmaier and other NASA directors to meet with the DIRECT Team, which took place on 19 January 2010. This is confirmed by the meeting participants at the on going Forum conversation at NASASpaceFlight. The NASA participants are:

  • William H. Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator for Space Operations
  • Douglas R. Cooke, Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Mission Directorate
  • Phil Sumrall, Exploration Launch Projects Advanced Planning Manager, MSFC
  • Geoff Yoder, Director, Constellation Systems Division, NASA HQ

That is a lot of firepower to be meeting with a group of people dismissed by the “regurgitation media” as “PowerPoint Rocketeers”.

Further, Popular Mechanics confirms much about what has been written recently about the coming changes here and here at NSS Phoenix. Finally, Chris Bergin just published “MAF provide positive ET hardware overview for early SD HLV test flight” at NASAspaceflight.com.

NASA press release concerning Monday’s press conference by Gen. Charles Bolden at 1:00 PM Phoenix time (3:00 PM EST) and the budget (which will be available at 10:30 AM Phoenix (12:30 PM EST).

NASA – ISS Science Success – Part I

Part I, Part II, Part III

ISS
International Space Station. Credit: NASA Image

It now appears likely that the mission of the International Space Station (ISS) will be continued through 2020 (See the Augustine Scenarios). And following NASA’s announcement in September of the release of the report on “International Space Station Science Research Accomplishments During the Assembly Years: An Analysis of Results from 2000-2008”, now would be a good time to look back on the scientific accomplishments so far, and to look ahead. Because NASA’s report is 250 pages in length, we will digest it in small pieces.

The major areas of research include:

  • Technology Development for Exploration
  • Physical Sciences in Microgravity
  • Biological Sciences in Microgravity
  • Human Research Program
  • Observing the Earth and Educational Activities
  • Science from International Space Station Observations

Following launch of the Russian Zarya module in 1998, and before human occupation began in 2000, several experiments were conducted:

  • Protein Crystal Growth – Enhanced Gaseous Nitrogen Dewar (PCG-EGN)
  • Commercial Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus: Kidney Cell Gene Expression (CGBA-KCGE) and Synaptogenesis in Microgravity (CGBA-SM)
  • Incidence of Latent Virus Shedding During Space Flight (Latent Virus)
  • International Space Station Acoustics Measurement Program (ISS Acoustics)

One of the most exciting results reported from ISS research is the confirmation that common pathogens change and become more virulent during space flight, performed in September 2006. This has important implications for extended human missions. It is also a target for additional research.

During the time covered by this report, steady growth in publications associated with ISS research has occurred, as shown in the graph to the right.

What have been the major research results in each of the six areas discussed in the report?

Technology Development for Exploration

One of the most important concerns of any space based operation has to be air quality. Therefore, the experiments with the “Analyzing Interferometer for Ambient Air” (ANITA) instrument will prove crucial to future explorers. “ANITA was calibrated to simultaneously monitor 32 gaseous contaminants (including formaldehyde, ammonia, and carbon monoxide (CO)) at low as parts per million levels in the ISS atmosphere. The hardware design—a quasi on-line, fast-time resolution gas analyzer—allowed air quality to be analyzed in near real time.”

Cumulative ISS Publications
Credit: NASA Image

As an example of the importance of these capabilities, the report notes that “ANITA was used in mid 2008 to detect a Freon leak (Khladon 218) from the Russian air conditioner, and to monitor the timeline of Freon concentrations with CDRA operations and shuttle docking. The ANITA data helped to determine that the zeolite bed in the CDRA was not effective in scrubbing the Freon leak, but that diluting the ISS air after the docking with the shuttle substantially reduced the level of Freon” (p18).

Other research topics include:

  • The Active Rack Isolation System (ARIS), which protects equipment by absorbing the shock of motion before it can affect an experiment.
  • The Smoke and Aerosol Measurement Experiment (SAME), which is planned to gather particulate size information on ISS. It is known that fires in microgravity produce smoke particles that are larger than on Earth. Being able to distinguish between smoke and other particles on ISS is important.
  • “The elastic memory composite hinge (EMCH) experiment provided test data on new materials that will further space hardware technology. This technology may eliminate the need for highly complex deployment mechanisms by providing a simpler, lightweight alternative to mechanical hinges. EMCH builds on the previous space shuttle experiment, lightweight flexible solar array hinge (LFSAH) that was flown on STS-93” (p 22).
  • “The In-SPACE Soldering Experiment (ISSI) is another payload that was rapidly developed after the Columbia accident to provide a lowmass experiment using hardware already on board station. It was designed to promote understanding of joining techniques, shape equilibrium, wetting phenomena, and micro-structural development in space” (p 23).

Physical Sciences in Microgravity

While Technological Development is important for space exploration, pure research also has a place on the ISS. Protein crystal growth, fluid physics and materials science are being researched:

  • The Advanced Protein Crystallization Facility (APCF) can support three crystal-growth methods: liquid-liquid diffusion, vapor diffusion, and dialysis. In the vapor diffusion method, a crystal forms in a protein solution as a precipitant draws moisture in a surrounding reservoir. In the dialysis method, salt draws moisture away from the protein solution via a membrane separating the two and forming crystals. Initial analysis of the crystals that were returned from station supports the findings of earlier APCF flights: comparative crystallographic analysis indicates that space-grown crystals are superior in every way to control-group crystals that are grown on Earth under identical conditions (p 47).
  • The Binary Colloidal Alloy Test hardware supported “three investigations in which ISS crews photographed samples of colloidal particles (tiny nanoscale spheres suspended in liquid) to document liquid/gas phase changes, growth of binary crystals, and the formation of colloidal crystals that were confined to a surface. Colloids are small enough that in a microgravity environment without sedimentation and convection, they behave much as atoms. By controlling aspects of colloidal mixtures, they can be used to model all sorts of phenomena” (p 49).
  • Protein Crystal Growth-Enhanced Gaseous Nitrogen (PCG-EGN) was designed to produce crystals of various biological compunds. Also, some 500 student preparations were made as part of an education program to teach students about crystallization, crystallography methods and the impact of crystallography on medicine and biotechnology. A significant number of crystallization were successful. Indeed, some of the results produced better data than could be obtained in Earth bound efforts (p 69).

Sometimes, “no” is just as important as “yes”.

Researchers have found that it is possible to grow high-quality protein crystals in the weightlessness of LEO, where gravitational forces will not distort or destroy a crystal’s delicate structure.

The goal of the Dynamically Controlled Protein Crystal Growth (DCPCG) experiment was to control and improve the crystallization process by dynamically controlling the elements that influence crystal growth.

DCPCG was the first flight test of an apparatus that was designed to control the crystal growth process by controlling the rate of evaporation. The apparatus worked on orbit, and crystals were grown for the test proteins; however, the investigators determined that the growth could have been better. The same apparatus was used in extensive testing on the ground. Researchers tested a selection of protein solutions, including insulin (a hormone that is produced by the pancreas to regulate the metabolism and use of sugar), serum albumin, and lysozyme (an enzyme that attacks bacteria) and found that a slower evaporation rate yielded better results than a more rapid evaporation rate. While the results of the ground tests were published, the DCPCG experiment investigators did not seek to publish any structures from crystals grown in orbit.

What’s Ahead

In 2008, the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) Columbus and Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Kibo scientific modules joining NASA’s Destiny Laboratory. Further, in 2009, the number of crew members increased from three to six. This means that a lot more time is available for research in the future.

New experiments aboard the ISS include a broad range of science, as follows:

  • Coordinated human research experiments that collaborate with International Partners’ science objectives and activities, including shared baseline data collection and in-flight sampling, with the goal of understanding integrated causes and effects of changes in the human body.
  • Research using new science racks, including the fluids integrated rack (FIR), the combustion integrated rack (CIR), and materials science research rack (MSRR), will enable new experiments exploring combustion, fluid behavior, and heat-dependent crystallization patterns in metal alloys.
  • Exploration Technology Development will build from early experiments on materials exposure, smoke generation, liquid fuel management, and environmental monitoring.
  • The new Window Observation Research Facility (WORF) will provide capabilities to support remote sensing instruments, enabling Earth Science research that will, for example, document crop health and test the utility of blue-green bands for ocean research.

Part I, Part II, Part III

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.