Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Augustine Committee and their Report

The Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee led by former Lockheed Martin chief Norm Augustine turned in their final report October 22. They worked hard and had good, smart, dedicated people who did a good job. I don’t know how they were compensated, but it probably wasn’t enough. I’m profoundly grateful for their efforts.

They have some good recommendations. Many may not survive the political process: already representatives from places with major NASA spending are saying that it would be a terrible thing if anything was done that might result in less NASA spending where their constituents live.

And if we do the right thing there will be pain in various places. The Ares I launcher was more plausible when the that project began, but bringing it into operation will now cost a lot for a launcher that will at best fly only a few times: perhaps a dozen, perhaps less. US launchers already flying can carry similar payloads. They have convinced me that Ares I should be canceled. It will harder to convince voters who benefit directly from the survival of the program.

The committee makes a good argument that we will eventually return to our Moon, visit Near Earth Objects like asteroids and comets, the Martian moons Deimos and Phobos, and eventually Mars itself. Our Moon may not be the optimal first destination on the list.

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