In the absence of a new administrator I hestiate to join in with the cacophony of pundits in other fields on the status of Obama’s first one hundred days in office.
But I decided having no administrator is no excuse. So here’s a brief score card on how the administration, congress and industry has performed since inauguration on space exploration and utilization. NASA Administrator
None. But not for lack of trying. Seems the Obama desire for “no drama” rules the day. You want to block my picks? Fine, I’ll move on to the next pressing issue. Seems a loss for shuttle supporters. Space Shuttle
Remember back to the heady days of inauguration. Space media gushed how NASA was on the inside track for receiving White House attention. To begin with, there was the time-critical issue of whether to allow the space shuttle fleet to retire in 2010.
That huge question, within some margin for compromise, has been solved by the deft hands of those at OMB and within the White House. On May 1st the dismantling of the program will resume. A major decision made without any policy pronouncement. Another victory for “no-drama Obama”. Russia
At the time of inauguration questions loomed on Russia. There was heated Congressional talk, especially from those representatives from Texas and Florida, of punishing Russia because of its mishandling of the Georgia situation.
Since then, NASA has quietly continued to build trust with their Russian colleagues. Space station cargo and manned obligations continue to be met, enough so that one NASA official even proclaimed last week that the “Soyuz will always be there.” Maybe yes, maybe no, but a reflection of NASA’s appreciation for the Russian capabilities. With all the economic problems, the upcoming reliance on Russia for astronaut transportation has taken a back stage…for now. U.S. Space Station Commitment
With little fanfare we have committed to supporting the International Space Station past the 2015 date. This puts into motion a number of commitments on an international level, and for those dreamers still in the space industry, opens the promise that perhaps, just perhaps, the use of the space station as a U.S. national laboratory might yield breakthrough research or product results. Commercial Cargo Services
Weeks after the administration took office two smaller space companies were awarded the Cargo Resupply Services Award (CRS) for commercially meeting America’s space station cargo requirements. For SpaceX and Orbital Sciences it is a huge responsibility and leap of faith on the part of NASA. Planet Space protested, and last week the GAO declined the protest.
NASA dodged a bullet on that one—there was always the risk that the GAO would suggest a re-bid but again, a victory for the “no-drama” crowd and one for commercial supporters. New Directions and Issues
--Janet Lubchenco as head of NOAA. Already, indications of aggressive leadership by NOAA on environmental issues. More commercial projects, behaving as a customer. Role model for NASA?
--China: More and more talk of lowering the barrier between NASA and China from all sorts of sources, within the administration and from Congress. Just seems to be taking on momentum.
--Orbital Debris: Thanks to the collision of the American and Russian satellites orbital debris has captured the attention of not just space policy geeks. This may well be the issue that brings not only DoD and NASA amicably together in one room, but so too all space faring nations. Good platform to start new era of international cooperation.
--Gathering strength for fundamental review of post-Shuttle hardware programs. This will be first decision with true “Obama” stamp, reflecting cost considerations, national prestige and the Obama administration’s own political considerations.
--Funding: Indications that the absence of a NASA administrator is hurting the space agency in the critical late night discussions over who gets what. Five year manned gap seems unrealistic at this time.
--Moon: Ah yes, the Moon. A challenge for the new administrator.
No drama wins. Emotional outbursts lose.
Shuttle supporters down.
Moon continues to wait.
Prediction: Industry is in for a surprise once the full Obama team is in place. Someone big will have to fall on their sword over cost overruns. A final thought: change has not happened yet to NASA and will not until an Obama appointee is approved. Treading water is nice, but its time to get going.