Charles Bolden has recently had a Mars makeover. He likes to claim that everything that NASA now does is part of the “ultimate mission”, which is to Mars. The problem is that his priorities within NASA don’t support that claim. He’s cut $400 million from the SLS-Orion program and increased funding to earth sciences by almost the same amount. He denies that a year’s delay in the Orion program is even a delay at all. He even denies originally saying that the EM1 flight would be in 2017. He is fighting to keep $2 billion in earth sciences and away from planetary science.
Bolden rarely gives a straight answer, he rejects expert advice, ignores the NASA advisory council, and is utterly dismissive of SpaceX in regards to Mars – even going so far as to ask others in government “not to buy into” commercial efforts and interest in Mars.
Of course Bolden will never have to deliver on his Mars promises. He will, thankfully, be long gone by then.
At the recent “Subcommittee on Space Hearing – An Overview of the Budget Proposal for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for Fiscal Year 2016”, Bolden was quizzed for almost two hours. A few moments of the questioning became news, mostly the line that no one is going to Mars without NASA’s help. Like this story (which was better than most):
But that didn’t tell the full story, or convey the general level of dissatisfaction that I think is evident from the committee.
So watch the original video for yourself and you decide. I’ve highlighted some of the key moments:
12:50: Chairman Smith’s excellent preamble on Earth science funding craziness
23:00: Bolden talking NASA “accomplishments” and lists three: “welding barrel sections of the SLS”; Orion flight studies; and planning for an Orion-SLS flight.
25:30: NASA advisory council voted that the ARM mission efforts be recast to a manned mars mission. Bolden disagrees and claims ARM is a “critical component” toward a Mars mission.
32:00: More money will not change SLS availability says Bolden, merely “buy down risk”.
36:20: Where is the Mars roadmap? Bolden basically lists everything NASA is currently doing and claims everything is essential to a Mars mission from the ISS, to the ARM mission, solar-electric propulsion and commercial crew and cargo.
39:20: Bolden again pressed to lay out what the plan is to get to Mars (of course we never get a straight answer).
40:00: Bolden reminded by Congressman Brooks that NASA is about aeronautics and space and is asked why NASA is spending about $2 billion on earth science.
44:00: Bolden refuses to support shifting earth science money to the space program.
46:00: Bolden’s idle boasting about NASA cut off by Vice-Chair Brooks. Brooks says: “When it comes to human spaceflight we are no longer preeminent country in space.”
53:30: Chairman Smith wants more direct answers, again asks Bolden to accept advice to forget the “boulder” retrieval mission and go to Mars instead. Smith says: “I’d rather you listen to the experts, than yourself.” Bolden also refuses to commit to an independent cost estimate date for ARM.
57:00: Despite Orion and SLS being cut by $400 million and earth science increasing by $300 million, Bolden denies shift in priority
59:15: On the subject of the SLS flight slipping from 2017 to 2018: Chairman Smith: “You don’t consider 2017 to 2018 to be a delay?” Bolden: “I do not consider it to be a delay”. Smith: “This may be the only administration in history that doesn’t consider going from 2017 to 2018 being a delay.”
1:07:00: Cost of Russian crew lift is $76 million per seat, with six seats per year. Because of crew program delays NASA is now up for an extra $900 million
1:10:00: Bolden is asked why not involve SpaceX in the mission to Mars to help reduce overall cost. Bolden replies that: “Only nations do the kind of things we’re trying to do. There is no commercial company, that without the support of the government, and without the support of NASA, is going to independently take a trip to Mars. So I would hope that no one on this committee buys into that.”
1:32:15: Bolden again quizzed on why he’s ignored the experts on the ARM mission.
1:33:20: Bolden is asked what his plan was if Russia withdrew crew flights to the ISS. The only answer is that crew capability will be regained in two years. He’s pushed again and again for an answer and finally admits at 1:38:00 that there is no plan.
After watching the Hearing above (especially Chairman Smith) have a look at this bleating nonsense about the House Budget Bill that moves about $300m from earth science into SLS=Orion. Of course the goofy mob at the Planetary Society don’t support the bill because they’re even more inward looking than Bolden.
Thanks to Stephen C Smith for posting the video. Stephen’s excellent blog: http://spaceksc.blogspot.com.au/