Thursday, July 16, 2009

Augustine's Comments to the NAC

Norm Augustine delivered some comments to the NASA Advisory Council today via telephone. I made some notes (via hand writing -- it works better for me than trying to use a laptop perched on my lap). Any errors in this account are mine.

Augustine began with the request that he wants advice from NAC. He noted that his group is only addressing the human part of space exploration. He commented that his group can't give any answers. The group is working hard and diligently.

His group has certain boundaries. They may only give options, not recommendations. The options must be within the budget proposals. The shuttle must stop in 2010.

Negotiations with the White House did produce the possible changes. The budget may exceed current proposals. The shuttle can be operated beyond 2010. An interim report will be delivered at 75 days with the final due at 90 days.

Augustine made several points:

  • Seven shuttle launches remain.
  • The gap in American human spaceflight is now five years, possibly more.
  • ISS is currently supposed to end in 2016. What should its future be?
  • NASA has budget constraints.
  • Congress is critical of dependence on Russians for access to ISS.
  • What should the relationship with other nations be?
  • What part should the commercial sector play?

The committee has hired the Aerospace Corporation for independent judgment. Getting a second opinion is always a good idea.

Augustine reported that public input was quite varied. No two persons agreed with each other. He said the public website is drawing significant numbers of comments.

Five subcommittees were formed:

  • Return to the Moon? Mars? Lagrange points?
  • Low cost LEO?
  • Shuttle and ISS
  • Integration committee (international aspects, workforce, etc.)

Sorry, I did not get the fifth.

Space transportation costs are a major driver. Expendable launch vehicles, since every vehicle is new, make the upfront costs high. It is very hard to make a quantum jump in cost to orbit.

Augustine asked for NAC member opinions. Ken Ford also asked for opinions.

General James Abrahamson commented that the current NASA is the best he has ever seen. Whatever the final options are, we have a terrific team to put those options into place. Augustine shares that view.

Colonel Eileen Collins first thanked Augustine and his committee for their work. She also thanked him for talking to the NAC today. She commented that:

  • NASA employees working with the committee have listened to the discussions.
  • NASA people are passionate about their work and exploration.
  • The retirement of the shuttle shocks members of the general public.

Collins thinks that NASA has not lost its direction.

Augustine urged people to e-mail him at norm dot augustine at

Raymond Colladay also complimented Augustine. He raised the question to what extent is the technology base there for further exploration. Augustine replied that the tech base has been neglected.

Jack Burns observed that science was not part of the charter of the commission. He expressed the view that lunar science can play an international role. He asked how the commission was dealing with the science community. Augustine replied that:

  • Two scientists were members of his committee.
  • Science is very important.
  • The nonlunar science community was more vocal than the lunar science committee.

Owen Garriott asked if options would be recommended. He commented that every word would be parsed to find recommendations. Augustine replied that his group's goal to present factually in an unbiased way the options. Individual members would be permitted to say "This is my preference."

Gerry Kucinski raised workforce issues. He observed that attempts to attract the best and brightest had not been successful. He wanted to work more internationally. He also raised the question of taking 60% of advanced degree candidates off the table -- those who came from other countries.

Augustine said those were good questions. He did report one piece of encouraging news. Current economic problems had encouraged interest in science and technology among the student population. He also commented that 20 year projects presented an interesting problem for young people. It was possible that part way through that 20 year project the project could be canceled with major effects on people's careers.

Pat Condon expressed the view that the report would be of the highest quality. He asked who will get the report and choose among the options. Augustine replied that his gut impression would be that the President must choose. ISS must be considered. The three states most affected would be Florida, California and Texas.

Gene Covert asked if minority reports would be allowed.

Augustine expressed the view that minority reports weaken the overall report. Such reports would be tolerated, but not welcome.

Brad Jolliff of the science committee followed up on Jack Burns' comments about why to do science.

Augustine noted that one challenge of human space flight is justifying the program. Science, education, inspiring the young, prestige all figure in.

Tom Jones raised the issue of human space exploration funding is now a significant consideration. Augustine says we must look at the historical record. The commission will have lots to say about NASA being given challenges without adequate financing.

That ends my report on Norm Augustine's telephone address to the NASA Advisory Council. Any errors are mine.