Tuesday, August 2, 2011
When Obama Visited Titusville — Revisited
In March 2010, I wrote an article titled, "When Obama Visited Titusville". The intent was to debunk false claims made by Obama's political opponents in the Space Coast about what he really said when he spoke in Titusville on August 2, 2008, during his presidential campaign.
It's been three years since that speech (which you can watch above), so let's update what Obama said and find if he broke any promises.
Below is a transcript of what he said.
Y'know, one of the areas where we're in danger of losing our competitive edge is in science and technology, and nothing symbolizes that more than our space program.
I've written about this in my book. I grew up in Hawaii, and I still remember sitting on my grandfather's shoulders as some of the astronauts were brought in after their capsules had landed in the middle of the Pacific. I could just barely see them. I was waving that American flag. And I remember my grandfather explaining to me, "This is what America is all about. We can do anything when we put our mind to it."
And that was what the space program described, that sense of possibility and always, y'know, reaching out to new frontiers. When I was growing up, NASA inspired the world with achievements that we're still proud of.
Today, we have an administration that sets ambitious goals for NASA without giving NASA the support it needs to reach them. As a result, NASA's had to cut back on research, trim their program, which means that after the Space Shuttle shuts down in 2010 we're gonna have to rely on Russian spacecrafts to keep us in orbit.
So let me be clear. We cannot cede our leadership in space.
That's why I'm gonna close the gap, ensure that our space program doesn't suffer when the Shuttle goes out of service. We may extend an additional Shuttle launch. We're gonna work with Bill Nelson to add at least one more flight beyond 2010 by continuing to support NASA funding. By speeding the development of the Shuttle's successor. By making sure that all those who work in the space industry in Florida do not lose their jobs when the Shuttle is retired because we cannot afford to lose their expertise.
But more broadly, we need a real vision for the next stage of space exploration. To help formulate this vision, I'm going to re-establish the National Aeronautics and Space Council so that we can develop a plan to explore the solar system, a plan that involves both human and robotic missions, enlist both international partners and the private sector, because America leads the world to long-term exploration of the Moon and Mars and beyond.
Let's also tap NASA's ingenuity to build the airplanes of tomorrow, and study our own planet, so we can combat global climate change.
Under my watch, NASA will inspire the world once again and make America stronger and it's gonna help grow the economy right here in Brevard County and right here in Florida. That's what we're gonna do.
I reviewed the significant points in my March 2010 article. Let's revisit those and see what's changed since then.
• The Bush Administration underfunded NASA. Partially true.
After the loss of Columbia, Bush cancelled Shuttle in January 2004 and proposed the Vision for Space Exploration which resulted in Constellation.
An April 3, 2008 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report raised concerns about "considerable unknowns as to whether NASA’s plans for these vehicles can be executed within schedule goals and what these efforts will ultimately cost. This is primarily because NASA is still in the process of defining many performance requirements."
An August 2009 GAO report found that Constellation lacked a "sound business case" and had "a poorly phased funding plan that runs the risk of funding shortfalls in fiscal years 2009 through 2012, resulting in planned work not being completed to support schedules and milestones. This approach has limited NASA’s ability to mitigate technical risks early in development and precludes the orderly ramp up of workforce and developmental activities."
In November 2010, I wrote a blog titled "After Bush Cancelled the Space Shuttle" that documented how Congress and the world reacted to his Vision for Space Exploration speech on January 14, 2004.
Two weeks later, NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe appeared before the Senate Science Committee to detail the proposal. He presented what came to be known as the Vision Sand Chart:
Several senators at the hearing, and some opinion columnists, correctly predicted that the cost estimates were way too low.
But no President can enact a budget. Congress determines the budget. The President proposes one, but the Congress is free to ignore it.
The Congress pretty much went along with Bush's proposal, and of course Bush signed it. So the blame for underfunding NASA lies both with Bush and Congress.
• The Shuttle will shut down in 2010 and the U.S. space program will rely on Russian spacecraft to reach the ISS. True.
The decision to retire Shuttle was announced in the Vision for Space Exploration speech. This was in the wake of the Columbia disaster and the Columbia Accident Investigation Board report. Based on CAIB's recommendations, the Administration decided to fly Shuttle again, but only to complete construction of the International Space Station. Once the ISS was complete, the Shuttle was to be retired.
The ISS was officially completed with the STS-134 Endeavour flight in May 2011. That's why Shuttle retired after STS-135 Atlantis, which was an extra flight added by the Obama administration (below).
As for relying on Russia, that was another policy decision made in January 2004. The decision was on the front page of the January 30, 2004 Florida Today:
NASA's space station astronauts could continue hitching rides on Russian rockets even after America's space shuttles return to flight, three agency officials said ...
During a private meeting in Houston last week, [NASA Administrator Sean] O'Keefe told U.S. astronauts that he is considering flying all future station crews on the Soyuz rather than shuttles. [Flight crew operations director Bob] Cabana and two other NASA managers confirmed to Florida Today and Space.com a change is under consideration ...
Some U.S. astronauts, including current space station commander Michael Foale, said they prefer flying on the Soyuz because it has a crew escape system not present on the shuttles.
• "We may extend an additional Shuttle launch." Promise kept.
In the spring of 2009, the Obama administration included funds for the STS-134 mission in its proposed 2010 NASA budget. STS-134 was added during the Bush administration, but the Obama administration funded it.
STS-135 was added in 2010. It was originally intended to be a rescue backup for STS-134, but it was later decided to upgrade the mission to deliver cargo and supplies to the ISS, enough to last until commercial cargo flights begin in 2012.
• Speed the development of Shuttle's successor. A work in progress.
The Shuttle's successor was originally intended to be the Constellation program's Ares I, but that program fell years behind schedule and was billions over budget. The 2009 Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee, commonly known as the Augustine Committee, issued a report estimating that Ares I would not fly until 2017, two years after the ISS was defunded by the Vision for Space Exploration. On paper, it appeared that Ares I was being built to fly to a facility that would not exist.
In 2010, the Obama administration proposed cancelling Constellation and replacing it with Commercial Crew Development. The savings would be used to extend the ISS to 2020.
In a recent CNN interview, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said that commercial cargo should begin in 2012, with commercial crew to follow in 2014-2015.
If those future dates hold, then Obama fulfilled his promise to "speed the development of Shuttle's successor." But contrary to what some claim, Obama never promised to keep Constellation.
• "Making sure that all those who work in the space industry in Florida do not lose their jobs when the Shuttle is retired because we cannot afford to lose their expertise." Promise impossible to keep, although he did try to mitigate the impact.
On April 27, I wrote an article about how Congress had killed Obama's proposal to spend $35 million in Commerce Department grants to the Space Coast for creation of high-paying jobs in fields such as aeronautics and medical research.
But Congress failed to act. I wrote on May 1 about a Florida Today article that explored how the grant program proposal was defeated. The paper concluded it was the victim of "neglect and fallout from political brinkmanship" as the Republican congressional majority held up the Fiscal Year 2011 federal budget.
• Re-establish the National Aeronautics and Space Council. Yes and no.
Obama didn't revive this council, which really serves no purpose other than an advisory board. But he did create the Augustine Committee, whose recommendations established the foundation for the Obama administration's space policy.
So did Obama keep the promises made at Titusville?
Yes, by and large. Those that were not literally kept, he did attempt, at least in spirit.
As we saw in the recent debt ceiling negotiations, no President has the unilateral authority to impose his budgetary will. That power lies with the Congress, as specified in the U.S. Constitution. What promises weren't kept can be laid at the feet of the Republican majority in the House — two of whom represent the Space Coast.