— Charles Bolden was sworn in as NASA administrator July 17, one month before a blue-ribbon panel charged with evaluating the agency’s human spaceflight program is slated to brief the White House on options for the future.
In May, U.S. President Barack Obama tapped retired Lockheed Martin Chief Executive Norman Augustine to lead a blue-ribbon panel charged with reviewing NASA’s manned space exploration program and report to the White House by mid-August.
The Senate confirmed Bolden and his deputy Lori Garver July 15, one week after their hearing. Bolden and Garver, whose nominations were announced by the White House May 23, were sworn in amidst NASA’s 40th anniversary celebration of the Apollo 11 lunar landing.
Hours before Bolden and Garver were sworn in without fanfare at NASA headquarters here July 17, Augustine told reporters during a teleconference he expects to submit a copy of the panel’s completed work to Bolden, as well as John Holdren, head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, next month. Holdren called for the panel in early May and is overseeing progress on the forthcoming report.
Augustine said it is possible that Bolden and Holdren will brief the president on the panel’s options in late August. It will then be up to the president to make a decision on the way forward.
During the July 17 teleconference, Augustine said the panel was considering a number of alternatives to NASA’s Constellation Program, a Moon-focused effort that aims to field its first vehicles, the Orion crew capsule and Ares 1 rocket, by early 2015, and then build an Ares 5 heavy-lift launcher for a 2020 return to the Moon. But Augustine cautioned that the panel had not ruled out any of NASA’s current plans.
“As far as our committee is concerned it would be completely wrong to say that Ares is dead in the water,” Augustine said. “We’ve looked at various versions of Ares, derivatives to Ares, alternatives to Ares. We’re looking at a whole bunch of possibilities.”
Augustine said some of the options the panel is considering are driven by budget and performance issues related to Constellation.
“We’re also looking at options that relate to performance levels, looking at options that might impact when and what one does with Ares 5, and as you heard with regard to Orion there are various options, one talks about crew size and things of that type,” he said. “[We’re] also looking at options that pertain to how one might retain commercial launch vehicles in combination with part of the Constellation program. International options are very much a part of this. We’re looking at almost any reasonable option you might think of.”
NASA spokesman Robert “Doc” Mirelson said during the teleconference that the Augustine panel, which held its first public meeting in Washington June 17 and will hold a second meeting here Aug. 5, has added a third Washington meeting to its agenda. At press time the date had not been finalized, but Mirelson said a third and final public meeting would likely take place between Aug. 10 and Aug. 12.