MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. —
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said he is revamping the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) by adding four committees to reflect the space agency’s evolving mission under the
administration of U.S. President Barack Obama.
The independent panel of experts who advise space agency officials on policies and programs will include new committees focusing on: commercial space; technology and innovation; information technology and infrastructure; and education and public outreach. In addition, the panel will retain its space operations, science, exploration, aeronautics and finance committees.
The commercial space committee, led by Brett Alexander, executive director of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, is being created to give NASA officials greater insight into the entrepreneurial marketplace.
“Just who are these energetic, ambitious and sometimes starry-eyed people who want to free NASA from the job of providing reliable transportation to low-Earth Orbit and let us focus on jobs only NASA can do, trying to get to other places in the solar system?” Bolden asked Oct. 29 at the NAC meeting held at the NASA Ames Research Center here.
The Commercial Spaceflight Federation is an industry association that represents the interests of some 20 dues-paying corporate members, several of which have NASA contracts.
Alexander worked at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy during the formulation of former President George W. Bush’s Vision for Space Exploration. Since leaving government, he has worked for commercial space start-up Transformational Space Corp. and the X-Prize Foundation.
Bolden also asked retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Al Edmonds to oversee a committee to help the space agency manage its information technology and associated infrastructure. Edmunds, former director of the Defense Information Systems Agency, will advise NASA on cyber security issues. “NASA faces more security threats than other federal agencies,” Bolden said. “Because we do so much external work and international cooperation, we are more susceptible to poking and prodding from the outside.”
In addition, Bolden created a committee to focus on public outreach and education, chaired by Miles O’Brien, former CNN anchor and space correspondent, as well as a technology and innovation panel led by Esther Dyson, an information technology guru
and space travel enthusiast who has invested in the commercial space firms Constellation Services Inc., Space Adventures, and XCOR Aerospace.
Commercial space advocates praised Bolden’s addition of Dyson and Alexander to the NAC.
“Charlie Bolden is putting meat on the bone of his commitment — this administration’s commitment — to opening the door to the entrepreneurial space sector,” said Jim Muncy, an Alexandria, Va.-based consultant who works for XCOR and previously held senior positions at the now-defunct Constellation Services Inc., and Transformational Space Corp.
Technology and innovation is likely to be an important focus of the NAC as the space agency tries to revitalize research and development. In comments following presentations by NASA Ames officials, NAC members discussed ways to spur space agency officials to pursue ambitious projects even at the risk of failure. “One challenge is to figure out how to make risk acceptable,” Dyson said. NAC Chairman Kenneth Ford added that space agency officials should publicly discuss the complex problems they are trying to tackle. “Nothing is routine about the work NASA does,” Ford said. “If it’s routine and you fail, you are inept. If it is hard and heroic and you are reaching far and you fail, it’s different.”
The recent report by the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee, led by former Lockheed Martin chief
Norm Augustine, also emphasized the need for NASA to devote additional resources to technology development. Bolden said the space agency is preparing to “renew technology research and development funded by NASA and conducted on college or university campuses and in private industry.”
The Augustine committee’s recommendations are likely to have wide-reaching implications for the entire space program. “The results from that report will affect every aspect of NASA,” Bolden said. “Whether its aeronautics, science, engineering, technology, everything we do will be effected by the president’s decisions coming out of our conversations.”
Because of the many important issues facing
Obama, Bolden said he is not likely to meet with the president
to discuss NASA’s future for weeks or even months.
As Bolden discussed another aspect of the space exploration program — the
Oct. 28 launch of the Ares 1-X rocket — he was overcome with emotion. “Yesterday was an incredible day,” Bolden said with tears in his eyes. “You don’t launch a new rocket every day. That’s kind of special.”