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."