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NASA Administrator Tries to Reassure Employees

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden on Wednesday tried to rally employees to support the Obama administration's unpopular plan to kill the nation's moon rocket program.

He said he understood many were upset, but that neither he nor the president intended to back down on plans to cancel the Constellation program and hand responsibility for operating rockets to private companies.

"Ain't going to happen," he said during an address from NASA headquarters televised throughout the agency. "It's not going to happen."

The sooner employees work through "denial and grief" and come together, he said, "the sooner we're going to go to the moon and to Mars and to other places."

The proposal to end the Constellation program, starting with the Ares I rocket and Orion spacecraft, was announced Monday with the release of Obama's proposed 2011 fiscal year budget.

Referring to findings by an independent review panel convened last summer, the administration determined the moon program was unsustainable and lacked innovation.

Instead, NASA proposed to invest $6 billion in commercial companies that would taxi crews to the International Space Station, whose operations would be extended five years, to 2020.

The agency would shift its focus to developing breakthrough technologies that could reduce the cost of exploration, such as new propulsion systems, in-orbit refueling and systems for harvesting resources on other planetary bodies.

Bolden promised more detail about the proposed new programs - which also include plans to develop parts of a heavy-lift rocket and launches of robots to scout locations for human exploration - would emerge in a period of weeks or months.

All together, he said, "They're going to allow us to commit to sustainable and long-term exploration and exploration capability. I just ask you to give yourselves time and look at what we're doing."

In a question and answer session involving NASA centers across the country, an employee at Ames Research Center in California asked whether the agency would retain sufficient in-house expertise to avoid being "taken for a ride" by private launch operators.

At Johnson Space Center in Houston, another employee lamented what he said was the loss of a clear vision with established destinations and timetables as Constellation had.

"I think that's one of the biggest things we lost over the past few days," the questioner said.

Bolden, a former astronaut who flew four shuttle missions, replied that he considered the new vision "relatively clear," lacking only specific milestones that were quickly being developed.

He acknowledged that some unhappy employees would leave NASA, but said he hoped most would get over their anger and stay.

"We need your expertise," he said, his voice breaking with emotion. "We need your loyalty, we need your dedication."

Explaining the decision to abandon Constellation, Bolden said that in the current "dire" fiscal climate he could not ethically recommend to the president that pouring tens of billions more dollars into Constellation was essential.

"The world is not going to come to an end become we're canceling the Constellation program," he said. "We are doing the best we can to make a good thing out of this."

3 Responses »

  1. I don't even work in the aerospace industry and I can see the mistake being made here. It isn't just about jobs (you know, the ones that are being lost...about 10,000).

    It's about more. This is being done WITHOUT a plan. If this were being done and the government had a laid-out plan then things would be different but the truth is even NASA’s administrator didn't know about it until the same day we all found out. That means the administration didn't consult ANYONE before making this decision.

    How can a politician who builds his whole campaign on "saving jobs" effectively kill the livelihood of 10,000 families with the stroke of a pen and not even have the decency to call a press- conference and explain?

    Constellation was about more than "going back to the moon". It is a very complex plan which has many steps; of which going back to the moon was only step one. The moon was supposed to be a milestone in a larger mission of ultimately putting people on Mars and beyond. Why is this important? Because we have only inhabited a very small portion of the known universe and there are things out there which we know exist, but we haven't actually seen them. Look at the periodic table of elements...some of those elements only exist in space. If you think we do some cool stuff now, just imagine what we could do with the more exotic stuff we can't get here on earth!

    The other loss is that of our dreams. I have a nine-year old daughter who loves the space program. She has autographed pictures of some of the current astronauts. Every shuttle (and hopefully rocket) which goes up doesn't just carry valuable payload and experiments, it carries our dreams. It carries our hopes. It carries the hope that one day our children will live their lives better than ours due to the technological advances derived from the research (most people don't realize how much NASA has influenced the technology they use every day) and the promise of our ability to persevere and conquer any problem given.

    Oh, and telling your children that one day they can become astronauts...we'll all have to sacrifice and refrain, because they can only strive to be passengers on a Russian (or soon Chinese) ship now.

    Whether you're republican, democrat, or independent, this should have been thought out and planned better. The truth is, it wasn't. The program was cancelled, and that saved a minor drop in the bucket compared to all of the other money spent.

    I'm confused as to the rhetoric about the environment and "energy-efficiency". NASA releases all technology produced to the general public. What would create more "energy efficient" technologies than a trip to the moon or Mars? These are very treacherous trips with no pit-stops or gas stations on the way. Have you ever heard the saying "Necessity is th mother of invention"? Goals produce ideas. This was the goal.

    So...we saved next to nothing, killed the thing we have consistently dominated the rest of the world at, did away with 10,000 jobs, and robbed our future and children’s' future of everything that would have come from the technology developed while also eliminating that whole "astronaut" dream.

    Good job. Mission accomplished.

  2. This sounds like something coming from Jim Jones. He is asking the NASA employees to participate in their collective suicide. Did he also serve cool-aid? Besides, the final say is with Congress and not Obama or Bolden. The rationale and the future plans are just vaporware. The Administration is trying to end the US human space flight program and transfer the world's leadership to China, India and Russia. Obama is throwing the dreams of a high frontier and the inspiration it represents away. Desite the rhetoric, if Obama succeeds, the US won't be going back into space other than as a passenger for a generation or more. So sad and so destructive of the future of this country. NASA employees - send your resumes to India.

  3. President Obama does not care about space exploration or NASA, other than being interested in raiding the NASA budget to support things he does like. He originally proposed shelving US human spaceflight and taking the money freed-up from that action to fund a new education initiative. That proposal turned out to be politically nonviable, so he handed the job of setting a course for NASA to a group comprised of former transition team members. This wholly unqualified team, led by Lori Garver, was out for revenge against the previous NASA administrator and they decide they were going to kill Constellation, one way or another. Obama appointed Garver to the Deputy Administrator post at NASA and created a smoke screen commission (Augustine) to distract space program analysts and the public while the plan to award up to $6 billion in taxpayer money to a supportive cabal of so-called "commercial space industry" friends. It is up to indignant Democrats and Republicans in Congress to join forces and defeat this corrupt and ill-advised scheme.