As the nation prepares for the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, including a light show at the National Mall, NASA has been in trouble returning to the moon. (Source: NASM)
by Jeff Foust
Monday, July 15, 2019
This is a week in which NASA is focusing on its past should, not on their future, until the present intervened.
This is the week of celebrating Apollo's 50th anniversary celebrations. Events across the country commemorate the launch of Apollo 1
| "I just thought it was important to make that decision to make that change at this time," Bridenstine said, a few blocks from the National Aerospace Museum at NASA Headquarters. Late Wednesday Wednesday, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced in an internal memo that he would reassign two top officials involved in the NASA exploration program. Bill Gerstenmaier, the longtime associate administrator for human exploration and operations, would now be a special advisor to Deputy Administrator Jim Morhard. Bill Hill, deputy administrator for the development of exploration systems, has also been appointed as a special advisor to Deputy Administrator Steve Jurczyk.
This memo contained few details of why Gerstenmaier and Hill were reassigned – effectively downgraded, if not dismissed, in the eyes of most NASA members and the space industry. "As you know, NASA has been challenged to bring the first woman and the next man to the moon by 2024, with the goal of sending people to Mars," wrote Bridenstine. "To meet this challenge, I have decided to change the direction of the Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) Directorate."
Few, if any, saw such a change. On Wednesday morning, Gerstenmaier testified before the Space Subcommittee of the House Science Committee at a hearing on NASA's commercialization strategy for Earth orbit. Nothing in his testimony seemed to be wrong, and Gerstenmaier lingered after the hearing and talked to committee members and other participants.
It certainly surprised the members of this committee. "I was surprised at the announcement of the Administrator," said Rep. Kendra Horn (D-OK), chairperson of the Space Subcommittee, in a statement on Thursday, adding, "concerned about the impact of such sudden leadership changes in our nation's human spaceflight Programs could have. "
NASA made no public announcement of the reassignments beyond the memo. However, in interviews over the next two days, Bridenstine said the urgency of the goal set by NASA's government – the landing of the people on the South Pole of the Moon by 2024 – required the agency to move quickly to the program to stay on course.
"We are entering a new era of manned space flight in which the administration wants to move forward quickly, we are interested in doing things the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate in a different way," Bridenstine said an interview on Friday on C-SPAN. "I just thought it was important to make that decision to make that change at this time."
But why right now? That was the question that many in the industry kept asking, wondering if there was an event that led to the reassignment. Was there some kind of report that provided bad news about the development of SLS and Orion or the commercial crew? Was there a directive from a White House that was dissatisfied with the pace of development?
Bridenstine seemed to reject the latter scenario. "It was all my choice," he said in the C-SPAN interview. "Ultimately, we need to be clear about NASA's commitment to cost and timing. Safety is our top priority, but we commit to costs and deadlines, and I thought it was important to make that change at this time. "Bridenstine emphasized" costs and deadlines "throughout the interview.
Gerstenmaier, who served as Deputy Administrator for Exploration and Operations since the merger of the Exploration and Space Operations Directorates in 2011, was admired by many within and outside the company NASA for its technical expertise in manned space flight and for its factual evaluations of the services and challenges of the agency. He received a number of awards for his services to NASA, including an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, Purdue University, earlier this year.
These assessments, however, may conflict with other statements made by the agency. At a meeting of the NASA Advisory Council on May 31, he made a cautionary note to the agency's future budgets. NASA has requested $ 1.6 billion additional funding for the 2020 fiscal year to complete work on the Lunar Lions for the Artemis program and other efforts without affecting other agency programs.
"When we reach 21, we probably will not be able to bring the whole budget into the money as new money," Gerstenmaier said at the meeting. "We have to look for efficiency gains and make some cuts within the agency, and that's going to be tough."
This included, as he said, cuts both inside and outside the exploration program. "Anyone can be on board with everything going on and endless new money flowing into the agency, but we've already had a series of discussions in which we discuss what other things we cut short or where we can slow down some things to concentrate. "
The agency responded a few days later with a statement that other parts of NASA would not be attacked to pay Artemis: "The administrator said we would not attack science to pay for Artemis, and that is the testimony of Agency position. "
What is not yet clear is how much Artemis will cost. In an interview with CNN last month, Bridenstine estimated that in addition to earlier budget projections, NASA would need $ 20-30 billion to bring people to the moon. Neither Bridenstine nor the agency have prepared their projections, including the post-2020 funding profile.
Bridenstine has refrained from this cost estimate in the C-SPAN interview, suggesting that this could be done for less if commercial partners come aboard. "We are learning that there are other people who want to contribute," he said. "They want to invest their own money. Why? Because they want customers who are not NASA. If you have non-NASA customers, our costs will be reduced. He added that it is "very realistic" if the cost is below $ 20 billion.
NASA has not received any new funding for Artemis yet. Parliament did not implement the US $ 1.6 billion budget amendment when it enacted its Law on Trade, Justice and Science funding for the financial year 2020, which finances NASA. That's no surprise, he said in the interview, as the budget change was published in the same week that a sub-committee on funds adopted the bill.
"I've talked to people on both sides of the aisle who are indeed very, very helpful," he said of the House's deputies. "The challenge is that they simply did not have time." Instead, he hopes the Senate will include the funding in his version of a spending bill. However, the Senate still has to start preparing a budget for the 2020 financial year.
"The process has just begun," said Bridenstine. "I am confident that this can be achieved."
And while Bridenstine said the reassignments alone are his decision, he knows that the entire Artemis program attracts the attention of the White House. On June 7, President Trump interfered in a statement on Twitter that apparently surprised everyone, including NASA. "For all the money we spend, NASA should NOT talk about going to the moon – we did that 50 years ago," he wrote. "You should focus on the much bigger things we do, including Mars (which the Moon belongs to), Defense and Science!"
While Trump's statement suggested that NASA should not return to the moon at all, NASA officials and officials said hours later that the president merely affirmed the long-term goal of going to Mars. "We asked Congress for additional resources to reach the Moon by 2024, so we could get to Mars for about a decade after a sustained presence on the lunar surface," a White House official said later.
One day after this tweet, Scott Space, Executive Secretary of the National Space Council, made an additional statement, arguing that the short-term focus on the moon did not allow enough discussion about the Mars mission. "I do not think we always do a good job when we talk about the bigger vision that this includes," he said in a speech at the National Space Society's International Space Development Conference. "He steps back and, I believe, expresses a very understandable impatience over how long it takes, and sometimes we miss the big picture."
Bridenstine also mentioned in the C-SPAN interview that he spoke with Trump in recent weeks. He said very clearly, "I know you have to go to the moon to get to Mars, but talk about Mars," Bridenstine said of Trump. "We'll keep talking about why we're going to the moon. It is the test field for the mission to Mars. "
Making this talk, be it from missions to the moon or to Mars, into reality, will be the task of a new leadership. Gerstenmaier's deputy, former astronaut Ken Bowersox, will act as deputy administrator for human exploration and operations. Bridenstine said he plans a nationwide search for a permanent replacement, which will hire two MPs: one to replace Hill to oversee work on SLS and Orion, and a new MP responsible for programs like the Gateway and the Lunar Countries ,
"We will look for them to look at the programs and develop their own plans and costs, and then ultimately have them executed on these ground plans," Bridenstine said of this new leadership. He added that pending decisions, including whether to run a green-run test of the core SLS phase or not, provided that this could save months but increase the risk of the program, are left to this new leadership ,
The Apollo program had its own leadership changes 50 years ago this month before humans successfully landed on the moon. Some are due to the accident with Apollo 1, others due to various problems and conflicts between the Agency, its contractors and the White House. As the nation celebrates the achievements of Apollo this week, we are reminded that the achievements brought many challenges – and that Artemis will not be any different.
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