Friday, March 12, 2010

When Obama Visited Titusville

Much has been made of Barack Obama's campaign visit to Titusville on August 2, 2008. All sorts of claims have been made about what it was that Obama said.

Above is a YouTube video of Obama's appearance.

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.

Okay, let's go point-by-point over the important statements in this speech.

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."

The federal government's fiscal year cycle runs from October 1 through September 30. The President submits a proposed budget early in the calendar year, but Congress is free to do what it wants. The budget is sent to the President for signature, or it can be vetoed (which rarely happens).

Obama became President on January 20, 2009, so his first budget was enacted on October 1, 2009. Everything before that was under Bush's watch.

Because the budget is a joint effort between the President and Congress, I'd conclude that both hold responsibility for any NASA funding shortfalls. But that's hardly news to anyone who follows the process.

The Shuttle will shut down in 2010 and the U.S. space program will rely on Russian spacecraft to reach the ISS. True.

Bush said in his January 14, 2004 speech, "In 2010, the Space Shuttle — after nearly 30 years of duty — will be retired from service."

The Bush administration signed a contract in April 2007 that contracted with the Russian Federal Space Agency for crew and cargo services through 2011. The Bush administration signed a number of agreeements using Russian craft to ferry American astronauts.

The Obama administration signed a contract in May 2009 to send astronauts to the International Space Station, but really had no choice since no other options are available. It was, essentially, an extension of the Bush policy.

"We may extend an additional Shuttle launch." Promise kept.

STS-134 is the additional Shuttle flight Obama promised to launch.

STS-134 is the additional flight. To quote from Wikipedia:

The Space Shuttle had been scheduled to be retired from service after STS-133, but controversy over the cancellation of several International Space Station components, most notably the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, in order to meet deadlines for the retirement of the shuttle, caused the United States Government to consider ordering an additional mission. On June 19, 2008, the United States House of Representatives passed the NASA Authorization Act of 2008, giving NASA funding for one additional mission to "deliver science experiments to the station".

The same mandate was included in the U.S. Senate version of the NASA Authorization Act that was unanimously approved by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on June 25, 2008. It was amended and passed by the full Senate on September 25, 2008, passed by the House on September 27, 2008, and signed by President George W. Bush on October 15, 2008. Bush had previously opposed any additional shuttle missions, as they could delay the transition to Project Constellation. In the spring of 2009, the Obama Administration included funds for the STS-134 mission in its proposed 2010 NASA budget.

Obama proposed the additional flight in August 2008. The House and Senate that summer were working on legislation to add the extra flight. Bush authorized it in September 2008, and Obama funded it in his proposed FY 2010 budget.

STS-134 is scheduled to launch in July 2010. Obama said in Titusville it would be after 2010, but that's a quibble. Although NASA's official schedule has all Shuttle missions completed in 2010, most observers believe at least one launch will slip into 2011.

Speed the development of Shuttle's successor. A work in progress.

Obama appointed in May 2009 the non-partisan U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee. It's become known as the Augustine Panel after its chair, retired Lockheed Martin CEO Norman Augustine. The panel was to conduct "an independent review of planned U.S. human space flight activities with the goal of ensuring that the nation is on a vigorous and sustainable path to achieving its boldest aspirations in space."

The Augustine Panel report was issued in October 2009. Its findings were quite controversial, and as typically happens when government contracts are threatened those with a vested interest in the status quo blasted its findings.

The panel found that Constellation was behind schedule and over budget, and unlikely to meet its target dates. Since Constellation was the designated "Shuttle successor," Obama had two choices — either find a way to speed up Constellation, or find another "successor."

Obama's proposed FY 2011 NASA budget chose to find another successor. The administration concluded that Congress was unlikely to fund the additional $3 billion - $5 billion per year most observers believe would be necessary to get Constellation back on schedule, and as noted above the GAO has raised serious concerns about the program.

Obama proposes to commercialize U.S. flights to the International Space Station, while shifting available NASA funding to develop "heavy-lift" technology that could one day take astronauts to the Moon and Mars.

It's unclear whether the nascent commercial flight business will be ready any sooner than Constellation would, but since Augustine believed Constellation wouldn't be ready until near the end of this decade that leaves SpaceX, Orbital and other commercial startups a good 7-8 years to develop a viable alternative to Constellation and keep Obama's promise to "speed the development of Shuttle's successor." Obama's budget proposal helps along those programs with government grants.

"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.

The only way Obama could protect each and every Shuttle job would be a blatant act of socialism, essentially giving those thousands of government contract workers a paycheck whether they work or not.

Jobs are going to be lost. That decision was made long ago, in January 2004, when Bush cancelled Shuttle. Some of the jobs might have been absorbed by Constellation, but certainly not all of them.

The blame lies with many people — local, state and federal elected officials, unions, and the workers themselves.

Anyone who works for a government contractor should know that your job lasts only so long as the government needs that service. A government contract should never be justified based solely on the desire to perpetuate jobs, just as a military base shouldn't be justified solely by the desire to perpetuate jobs.

What should have happened with NASA is what happened in the 1990s with the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process. BRAC creacted an independent process to identify which bases should be closed, independent of political chicanery. Local Reuse Authorities (LRAs) were recognized by the Pentagon to help transition the local economies of closed military bases into civilian use.

Brevard County has had over six years to prepare for the end of Shuttle. Local government failed to diversify the economy, preferring to rely on government contracts. State and federal officials failed to encourage local leaders to diversify. Unions have lobbied to protect existing jobs, whether they're needed or not. And workers failed to retrain themselves or live more frugally to prepare for the day when they might lose their jobs.

So there's plenty of blame to go around.

Obama shouldn't have promised to save those jobs when he obviously couldn't.

But that's not an excuse for all the other parties who failed to act over the last six years. That was your responsibility, not Obama's.

Obama is coming to Florida on April 15 to host a space conference. The details and location have yet to be announced. He will need to address all the allegations that he lied when he promised to save those jobs.

Re-establish the National Aeronautics and Space Council. Yes, sorta.

The National Aeronautics and Space Council had two incarnations. The first was from 1958 through 1973. A variant was created in 1989 by George H.W. Bush, but it was disbanded in 1993 and its functions were absorbed by the National Science and Technology Council created by President Clinton in November 1993. The NSTC still exists to this day, and Obama is its co-chair.

One could argue that the NSTC plays the role of the old NASC, and also that the Augustine Panel performed Obama's expressed intent to develop a new plan for the U.S. space program.

In fact, the council's Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has released a fact sheet that states the administration's vision for NASA's future.

Although he didn't resurrect the old NASC, what's more important to me is whether Obama fulfilled his expressed intent, which was to develop a new direction for the American space program. That's what he did through the OSTP. People may not like that direction, but he did fulfill the promise to create a new direction.

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