Video: NASA's Plan B for outer space

  1. Closed captioning of: NASA's Plan B for outer space

    >>> all morning. nasa is reportedly coming up with a plan "b" in order to remain the business of ferrying astronauts to the international space station and beyond. it comes as the white house seeks to cancel plans to build a new generation of spacecraft to replace the space shuttles . only four more shuttle missions are scheduled. and the white house wants to outsource missions to private companies. joining us via skype, veteran space correspondent jay barberie. jay, what does this all mean, that they're having to come up with a plan "b" here?

    >> tamron , what i'm told here by people who have been in this business now for 20 to 50 years, that they need to do this because, first, let me put it into perspective.

    >> okay.

    >> they've spent $10 billion building what they call the constellation program . that was drawn up by probably or arguably, i should say the best rocket engineer in the world. his name is michael griffin . he is now professor emeritus at the school of rockets engineering at the university of alabama -huntsville. he was our nasa administrator until president obama was elected. now, what he did, he came up with the best idea and the best plans and the safest vehicles and spacecraft that we could get. they have spent $10 billion on it. they are close to completing it. now, it would cost them $5 billion to $6 billion to shut this program down. that same money could be spent to finish the program, and then we would have a replacement for the space schulhuttle.

    >> right.

    >> people are very concerned all the way across the country because if they shut this program down, it could mean as many as 70,000 to 100,000 jobs from washington, d.c., headquarters of nasa itself, to kennedy space center here at cape canaveral , also the marshall space flight center in huntsville, alabama, the louisiana factories where they build the tanks and all for the vehicles, also, of course, mission control would go dark in houston. and the huge manned spacecraft center out there for human space flight . and also installations in california of nasa and in utah. so it's a very big thing. now, yesterday i spoke to neil armstrong who, of course, was our first man on the moon. he called nasa administrator charlie boulden, a former astronaut himself, and expressed his concern. now, nasa administrator charlie boulden told neil that he was going to take care of it. this morning we're reading about plan "b." well, what they need to do, no one is arguing about going commercial. that's great. we're just not ready for it. i think that mike griffin himself put it best when he said it's like us trying to sell 747 airliners to pan am in 1920 before lindbergh flew the atlantic. it's just too premature. and what we need to do is vote. and people think, well, we don't have the money.

    >> right.

    >> but this plan that they put there, tamron , has $1 billion more than they were spending. they didn't decrease it. they're spending more money. and they don't know what they're going to spend it on because there are absolutely no rocket or spacecraft built by commercial that can carry astronauts safely.

    >> so, then, let me ask you this. we're almost out of time. you have many people, especially when this new administration came into office, they have this new, bright, fresh president who would be a supporter of nasa . we know that the economy is greatly changed and there are other priorities. but how do the folks -- it's so cool that you can actually call neil armstrong on the phone and get him to talk. but what do you feel is the majority's sentiment for nasa beyond those -- the importance, obviously, of those people who may lose their jobs immediately?

    >> they are just concerned because not only will they be losing their jobs, they will be -- america will be going to third, fourth and fifth place. and talking about president obama , i do not think or know or cannot find anybody to tell me that president obama 's finger fingerprints is on this. i think charlie boulden is going back to him. the fingerprints that i know on this plan are from lower level bureaucrats.

    >> wow.

    >> and what we need to do is get to the bottom of this. it's very, very serious business right here because pretty soon we could be killing a lot of astronauts, and by trying to put them on -- and senator mccloskey is very concerned as is senator bill nelson from our home state here. they're all working hard to get this plan "b" going. and plan "b" would simply be keep what we've got and also do commercial. and we can do it for the same amount of money.

    >> well, nobody knows this better than you, jay. that's why we wanted to have you on. greatly appreciate it. jay barbrey on the latest. we'll see what happens with this plan "b." thank you, jay.

    >> my pleasure, tamron .

    >> always great to have you on.

    >>> and, of course, we always

By
updated 3/4/2010 4:47:17 PM ET 2010-03-04T21:47:17

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden is expected to discuss changes to President Barack Obama's plan to scrap the agency's Constellation program with at least one top lawmaker this week, according to an internal agency e-mail shared with Space News.

In Tuesday's document, Michael Coats, director of NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, wrote to the manned spaceflight center's chief engineer, Stephen Altemus, instructing him to establish a "'Plan B' team" to consider "a potential compromise," including a series of talking points for Bolden regarding development of a crewed spacecraft, heavy-lift launch vehicle and launch vehicle test program.

The e-mail indicates Bolden is to discuss the compromise with House Science and Technology Chairman Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., "in a couple days."

Bolden, however, said on Thursday that he did not ask NASA human spaceflight officials to come up with an alternative to Obama's plan.

"The president's budget for NASA is my budget. I strongly support the priorities and the direction for NASA that he has put forward," Bolden said in a written statement. "I'm open to hearing ideas from any member of the NASA team, but I did not ask anybody for an alternative to the president's plan and budget. We have to be forward-thinking and aggressive in our pursuit of new technologies to take us beyond low-Earth orbit, and the president's plan does this. After years of underinvestment in new technology and unrealistic budgeting, we finally have an ambitious plan for NASA that sets the agency on a reinvigorated path of space exploration."

Resistance in Congress
Obama's plan to terminate Constellation, including the Orion crew exploration vehicle and Ares family of rockets, encountered bipartisan resistance from House and Senate lawmakers during budget hearings held in February.

On Wednesday, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, proposed a new bill that, if passed, would extend the space shuttle program for two years beyond its planned 2010 retirement.

Hutchison's bill would also require the space agency to study options for a new launcher that could be ready to deliver U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the end of 2013 and beyond low Earth orbit by the end of 2018.

The bill, dubbed the Human Space Flight Capability Assurance and Enhancement Act, calls for spending an additional $3.4 billion between 2010 and 2012 to keep the space shuttle flying. It would require NASA to spread out its four remaining shuttle missions, now slated to wrap up by October, and potentially add additional flights.

Companion legislation is expected to be introduced in the House next week by U.S. Reps. Suzanne Kosmas, D-Fla., and Bill Posey, R-Fla.

Alternative under discussion
In this week's e-mail, Coats said Bolden agreed to the creation of a team to examine changes to the president's plan. He added that Bolden requested "talking points" in advance of his meeting with Gordon, and instructed Altemus to "flesh this out, then report to Charlie through Doug Cooke," who heads NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate.

Cooke was not listed as a recipient of the e-mail, though Coats sent copies to his deputy, Ellen Ochoa; to Robert Lightfoot, director of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.; to Bob Cabana, director of NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida; and to Constellation program manager Jeff Hanley, Orion program manager Mark Geyer and Edward Mango, launch director for Constellation's Ares 1-X flight test program.

Slideshow: Month in Space: January 2014 NASA's Johnson, Kennedy and Marshall space centers all play central roles in Constellation's development.

"Steve[,] Robert and I talked to Charlie and he agreed to let us set up a 'Plan B' team (my term, since Chairman Gordon asked Charlie about his 'plan B' at the hearing) to look at what a potential compromise might look like," Coats wrote, referring to a Feb. 25 hearing before the House Science and Technology Committee in which Gordon urged Bolden to be open to compromise in order to achieve consensus in Congress.

In the e-mail, Coats told Altemus to contact Mango, Geyer and Gary Lyles, NASA's associate director for technical management at Marshall, "to develop that one pager quickly, and set up a team (you can name it anything you want — I don't recommend Constellation or Orion)."

In addition, while Obama's budget proposal calls for a $6 billion increase to NASA's top-line spending over the next five years, Coats urged Altemus to keep the alternate proposal's cost estimates in mind.

"Living within the budget is a huge issue, since it's doubtful we'll get more funding," he wrote.

Click here to read the entire e-mail. This report incorporates information from an earlier Space News story on Space.com, "Senator Proposes Bill to Extend Space Shuttle Program."

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