Former Shuttle Program Manager Ponders The Nation's Future In
Analysis By Wayne Hale
The following article appeared December 9th on a blog
written by former NASA Shuttle Program Manager Wayne Hale. It is
reproduced here in its entirety with permission.
The 2012 Presidential campaign dominates the news but space
policy rarely gets mentioned; and when it does the mention is often
ill-informed or very abstract. Perhaps that will change.
The old paradigms supporting
America’s space program have faded; China has not replaced
the Soviet Union as an opponent which requires a national
demonstration of technical capabilities. Spinoffs and jobs
provided from space are overlooked in the larger economic
mess. Science is nice but hardly urgent when the debate
centers on the national debt or the social safety net.
Somehow, the ½ of 1 percent of the federal budget that gets
spent purely on the future has gotten overlooked.
Almost three years ago, the Review of Human Plans Committee (aka
“the Augustine Commission”) was announced. I know
we all had great hopes of that commission and its report.
Whatever you may think of their work – and I believe a lot of
it was good – the political leadership in Washington has made
hash of the nation’s space policy. Not only did the
current administration fail to adopt any of the major options which
Augustine reported as “worthy of a great nation”, but
the Congress has decided to fight the administration’s
initiatives at every step. Paul Spudis just named 2011 as
America’s space “Annus Horribilis”. It has
really been a lousy three years.
Not that there haven’t been great accomplishments; Hubble
still making discoveries every day, as is Kepler; the ISS is fully
crewed with research going on every day; Curiosity is on its way to
Mars; even the Shuttle made a graceful and successful
dénouement. But the future, the plans and policies for
the future; there lies a sad state of affairs.
In the spring of 2009, Bill Gerstenmaier asked me to be one of the
NASA support staff to help the Augustine Commission effort.
He also assigned one of the senior NASA HQ staff, Tom Cremins, to
work with me. So all summer, Tom and I played a tag team
along with several other NASA folks helping to provide support to
the Augustine Commission. I got to know Tom really well during
this period and have a great deal of respect for his judgment and
knowledge. That friendship was my best personal reward for
Now, Bill and Tom are in the final stages of preparing a paper
reviewing the value of human spaceflight to the nation. In
the midst of bickering and roadblocks, they remain positive and are
looking for the way ahead.
Many of us, including my friend Tom, are gathering in Boulder,
Colorado, in less than two weeks to review this situation and
hopefully find meaningful ways to explain the importance of space
exploration in these days. You can join us for this
discussion; see http://sas.data-engineering.com/
I’ll give you a report on the outcome in about two weeks.