As all of you know, I am very fond of the Space Program. I have incredible memories of it from my childhood days and astronauts are still heros to me. Last week, President Obama basically dismantled the program even more than I thought he would. Here is an article from my friend Craig Covello to explain the situation further. Please let me know what you think and let Obama know what you think about the destruction of America’s greatest achievement of the 20th Century:
Very soon, approximately 9000 NASA workers will be laid off. Only four years ago, the future looked bright. What happened? In a word: Obama.
You may recall that NASA’s Program Constellation was started by the Bush administration and endorsed by former NASA administrator Mike Griffin. Plans were made to have crews in Earth orbit by 2015 and on the moon no later than 2020. Constellation was based upon development of a low-cost rocket specifically designed to safely transport astronauts to the international space station, the moon and beyond after the shuttle program is retired. In order to do that, NASA leveraged all its experience with the Apollo and space shuttle programs. Griffin believed that simply using commercial rockets such as the Atlas 5 and Delta 4 boosters would not be a practical alternative. They were designed to launch satellites, which made them too large and dangerous for manned spaceflight unless significantly reengineered. So the decision was made to move forward with a new design called the Ares 1. But there were clouds on the horizon.
About a year before Obama was elected president, one of his campaign promises spoke of a new educational program with a price tag of approximately $18 billion. He told us that he planned to pay for it by cutting Constellation. The rhetoric, however, subsided by January 2008 because the voting public was lining up behind Republicans who endorsed the program. Predictably, Obama backpedaled on his earlier statements. Then just three months prior to the election, Obama made the campaign promise that he would indeed fully support returning to the moon by 2020. Once he got elected, the story has changed.
Last Thursday, Obama traveled to the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida to break that campaign promise. Also on Air Force One was former astronaut and moon explorer, Buzz Aldrin. Despite the fact that the president was traveling with the second astronaut to have landed on the moon, the public message delivered to NASA was devastating: The Constellation program was terminated. We would not be returning to the moon. Obama cited two reasons –
1. There have been significant cost overruns in developing the Ares 1 rocket.
2. We’ve already been to the moon, so there is no point in returning.
Obama then proceeded to propose a vague program designed to take us to an asteroid, and then eventually to Mars. It should be noted that there is no timetable for this endeavor, nor any serious funding. Obama is quick to point out that he is allocating $6 billion for the program over the next five years, but officials are just as quick in mentioning that this additional money would barely keep up with inflation for NASA’s current annual budget of $17.3 billion. Skeptics also point out that the earliest possible mission would not occur before 2025. So the net consensus is that manned spaceflight to Mars has little chance of becoming a reality. It appears to be nothing more than false hope in order to silence critics.
With the termination of Constellation and the retirement of Space Shuttle, the United States no longer has a platform to launch astronauts into orbit. Obama’s strategy is to rent seats on a Russian rocket in order to take American astronauts to the international space station. The price tag is $55 million per seat, per mission.
As if this news was not insulting enough, NASA employees were not even invited to the president’s speech at the Kennedy Space Center. Instead, Obama addressed an audience of approximately 200 people flown in from various parts of the country. Most of them were foreign dignitaries and educators. Clearly, this was a staged event meant to put spin on bad news and avoid the possibility of being challenged by the NASA constituency. Obama did, however, communicate one message to NASA when he was away from the cameras. He told 15,000 NASA employees that they could keep their jobs if they voted for him in 2012. NBC’s senior science correspondent, Jay Barbree, was on site at the Kennedy Space Center and visibly shaken by Obama’s public and private statements. He captured the essence of the situation when interviewed by MSNBC’s Alex Witt:
“Barbree: …I’m a little disturbed right now, Alex. I just found out some very disturbing news. The President came down here in his campaign and told these 15,000 workers here at the Space Center that if they would vote for him, that he would protect their jobs. 9,000 of them are about to lose their jobs. He is speaking before 200…….. It’s invitation only. He has not invited a single space worker from this spaceport to attend. It’s only academics and other high officials from outside of the country. Not one of them is invited to hear the President of the United States, on their own spaceport, speak today. “
After doing some Internet research, it became apparent that this situation is complicated and a bit of a soap opera. But cutting through the noise, here are some pertinent facts that may help explain why we no longer can put astronauts in orbit and we will no longer be going back to the moon:
• In 2006, the Ares 1 program was over budget. Costs increased to $40 billion from an original projection of $28 billion. The rocket also has some design issues, including excessive weight. This may or may not have been a manageable situation, but it’s clear that the White House was not interested in allowing NASA to resolve the problem.
• There was friction between the assistant NASA administrator, Lori Garver, and the senior NASA administrator, Mike Griffin. Mike was an engineer through and through. Lori came up through the ranks of NASA as a public relations person with no engineering background. Predictably, Obama exploited the situation and picked Garver to head up his NASA transition team. She is now NASA’s head administrator and sided with the White House to scrap Constellation while Griffin has been put out to pasture.
• In response last Tuesday, Neil Armstrong, Commander of Apollo 11; James Lovell,Commander of Apollo 13 and Eugene Cernan, Commander of Apollo 17 sent an open letter to Obama expressing their collective concerns over the decision to
scrap Constallation. They cited issues with allowing American astronauts to become dependent upon the Russian space program. They were concerned that over $10 billion invested in Constellation as well as several years of work are being thrown away. They
pointed out that this is the first time in half a century that the United States no longer has a way to put astronauts in orbit. Most importantly, they were sad that this action “destines our nation to become one of second or even third rate stature.” “Without the skill and experience that actual spacecraft operation provides, the USA is far too likely to be on a long downhill slide into mediocrity.”
Former Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldren disagrees. He has aligned himself with the Obama administration and distanced himself from his fellow astronauts and NASA employees in a somewhat confrontational manner. Aldrin was quoted in an MSNBC interview as saying:
“Well, they (Armstrong, Lovell and Cernan) differ with me, instead of me differing with them. Maybe you should get them on TV and ask them why they differ with us. Why they think it’s necessary to go back to the moon, and why they think it’s necessary to carry on with two rockets that are just not living up to expectations…”
Why in the world would Buzz Aldrin square off with his fellow astronauts, Neil Armstrong in particular? Well, there was one piece of information that hasn’t been reported. Alliant Tek Systems has lost its contract to build the Ares 1 rocket. The new NASA administrator, Garvin, would like to see Obama’s program for deep space exploration move forward using commercial rockets. Specifically, the Atlas 5 and the Delta 4. And who makes the Atlas 5 and Delta 4? To quote Jay Barbree again:
“You have Buzz Aldrin, who has his oldest son Andrew Aldrin, the chief planner of the Launch Alliance Group, the Delta 4 rocket in the Atlas 5 rocket, and they are the people who are trying to get the job of hauling the Orion spacecraft into space and the going to downsize it so they can put them (astronauts) on these rockets…. they’re trying to do that.”
My conclusion? Obama has convinced Buzz Aldrin that we are going to Mars on rockets made by his son’s company. There’s no budget and no timetable, but Aldrin believes it nonetheless. In the process, Obama has dismantled our space program, made us dependent upon the Russians and caused a rift between two heroes from my childhood who landed on the moon. Is there anything of American value, pride or vision that this president can’t destroy? Anything?
Copyright 2010 by Craig Covello. Used With Permission. All Rights Reserved