Here are the highlights:
The space community has fractured since the disastrous roll out of NASA’s “new direction.” Preceding the administration’s budget announcement, endless delays and rampant speculation about administrators, rockets, and program design and direction kept people guessing. The current trench warfare is not a pretty sight, but it is not unexpected given the lack of a clear direction. Word has it that more detail will come out early next week...
Word to the wise...it didn't.
...adding yet another layer to this growing space onion. The undirected, unfocused, unproductive spin cycle NASA (and the entire space community) has twirled around in for the last 18 months is instructive. It is real time, 20/20 insight on how the new direction will play out during the proposed five-year study hall being scheduled for NASA to find their “right stuff.”
The latest attempt to explain NASA’s new direction is an article published in Space.com by Clara Moskowitz. She tries to “correct” some alleged “misunderstandings” about the Obama administration’s new direction and budget for NASA. Her article quotes several space luminaries, who opine that the new path is simply “not understood” by a few petulant detractors who stubbornly refuse to accept Flexible Path as advertised. Responding to the criticism that the new path was conceived in secret by a small cabal without detailed thought, Moskowitz quotes my friend Jim Oberg as saying that the administration’s space proposal is “extremely similar” to a report issued by the International Astronautical Academy (IAA) and so (in effect) the new direction has been studied extensively by an “international astronautical group.”
Here're the money shots:
A glaring difference between the IAA report and the administration’s budget proposal is that the IAA report specifically recognizes the Moon’s surface as a valid objective (as does the VSE).
Civilizations thrive and advance when not in retreat. The administration’s chaotic proposal for NASA retreats from human space exploration. Many in the space community have serious doubts and concerns about this new direction. Labeling these doubts and concerns as “misconceptions” does not make the new direction valid nor change the reality that we are in danger of losing our capability as a space faring nation.
There's a not so marginal deal to be said in praise of Flexible Path. Killing Constellation--which would (by the grace of God) only produce an LEO vehicle in this decade--saves up to $7 billion a year going forward. There's supposedly a new look at EELV launchers for trans-lunar missions. And of course commercial space aid is going up north of a billion.
But that's literally it. FY2011 reveals at the Administration's aimlessness. ISS, cosmic navel gazing and climate change advocacy are the big winners, space technology gets as low as a third of the Constellation savings per year. Constellation may have been a huge, expensive mistake in execution, but the expenditure alone fit was the clearest articulation of the only mission worthy of NASA--the opening of space for American benefit. FY2011 reads like the budget for a university whose principle mission is to make Greens and internationals feel good about themselves.
The good news is even with this budget, in five to seven years some President will have the tools to proceed with a Vision for Space Exploration that's roughly back on track. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like this President is all that interested in picking up the torch.