— The chairman of the blue ribbon panel the White House has asked to take a fresh look at NASA’s Moon-bound Constellation program said the review would be conducted in open and without any foregone conclusions about the future of
human spaceflight.

Former Lockheed Martin Chief Executive Norm Augustine told reporters May 8 that the 10-member panel had not been selected but likely will include astronauts, industry representatives and other experts drawn from academia and government. As directed by President Barack Obama in his 2010 budget proposal, the panel will conduct a three-month review of NASA’s post-shuttle human spaceflight plans, including assessing the progress of the Ares 1 rocket and Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle, two early elements of the Constellation program.

“Our instruction is to take a fresh look at the human spaceflight program and go where the facts lead,” Augustine said.

On the heels of several reports released in recent weeks raising doubt that Constellation can meet its schedule within the current long-term budget profile, NASA officials said they welcomed the review but still believe finishing Ares and Orion is the agency’s best bet for achieving the twin goals of minimizing the length of time the United States will be without its own means of reaching the space station while setting the stage for going back to the Moon.

Augustine’s panel will be supported by a NASA team led by Michael Hawes, a long-time human spaceflight manager who currently runs NASA’s Office of Program Analysis and Evaluation (PA&E), the agency’s in-house think tank. Phil McAlister, the former Futron Corp. analyst working for NASA as special assistant for program analysis, will serve as executive director of the Augustine panel.

The White House, in ordering the review, said it should “identify and characterize a range of options that spans the reasonable possibilities for continuation of
human space flight activities beyond retirement of the Space Shuttle.”

Specifically, the White House is looking for the panel to come up with options that address several objectives: “(1) expediting a new U.S. capability to support utilization of the International Space Station; (2) supporting missions to the Moon and other destinations beyond low Earth orbit; (3) stimulating commercial space flight capabilities; and (4) fitting within the current budget profile for NASA exploration activities.”

Augustine, who testified before the House Science Committee in March 2004 about the inadvisability of trying to do space exploration “on the cheap,” told reporters that the panel would not feel compelled to limit its recommendations to those that fit within the budget guidelines that NASA had described as “placeholders” during a budget briefing the day before.

“As we go through this evaluation, if we were to find the budget didn’t make sense in any way, we wouldn’t be bashful about saying so,” Augustine said.

The review, he said, will be wide-reaching and will look at NASA’s current plans, alternative architectures and long-term goals, such as building upon technology needed for human exploration of the Moon to eventually developing the capability to send humans to Mars.

Augustine said the panel will review previous studies and reports and conduct its own research by visiting NASA centers, requesting briefings and inviting public comment at open meetings.

As chairman of the Committee on the Future of the U.S. Space Program two decades ago, Augustine endorsed using the Moon as a stepping stone to Mars – essentially the same path NASA is on today.

Augustine said that despite his past support for going to Mars by way of the Moon, the panel would take a wide view of possible destinations and approaches for human spaceflight.

“We have received clear guidance, and that is that the long-term is open-ended,” he said. “I’m going to try to be very open-minded about this study.”