For the past few days, us rocket scientists have been paying so much attention to the successful test of a new motor slated to be used on the Ares Rocket* that another event, possibly even more important has been overshadowed.
The Augustine Report.
Depending on if you are outside of the aerospace field, you may or may not have heard about this. Basically, President Obama sent the Augustine Commission to evaluate possible directions to take NASA. For several months the commission dug into briefings, listened to pitches from companies and audited NASA and its contractors. Now, finally, the commission has a report to present.
So what does it say? Is it the nail in the troubled Constellation Program’s coffin? Is it the blue print to humanity’s future in space? You can read the report summary here.
Well… What Does it Say?
The report starts off by detailing NASA’s current projects and the different launching options available (Ares, EELV, Shuttle Derived). It then breaks down the different destinations and the advantages of going to each one and in which order. Finally, the report puts together a list of optional paths to take dependent upon money available, launch vehicle, and destination.
The report mostly gave findings and very few opinions. What opinions they did give were:
- Maintain the ISS until at least 2020 (currently only funded through 2015)
- NASA’s given goals do not match its given funding
- We benefit from international partners
- The shuttle will need additional funding to fulfill its current manifest
- Mars should only be explored after closer, easier destinations
The report actually turned out to be much more balanced and unbiased than most had believed it would be. At no point does it advocate one vehicle over another, and it is careful to list the positive and negative attributes of each option.
What Does it All Mean?
Basically? We are more or less back to where we started: each company arguing its space vehicle is better, more reliable, cheaper, and faster to develop than the others.
I suppose that’s my one real problem with this report. It really offers no guidance, has no vision and doesn’t push anything in any direction. The aerospace industry is no better off now than when the commission started.
Most of the large aerospace companies were hoping for a boost from this report, but at the same time feared this report could kill them. But let’s be perfectly honest: Each system will work. Each system will get the job done. No matter who develops the next generation of American launch vehicles, all the major companies will get a piece of the pie, it’s just a question how big each piece is.
My hope is that this report will force lawmakers to come to a final decision on what direction NASA should take, and then allow NASA the time and resources needed to accomplish its goals. Regardless of what direction is taken, we as a country need to make a decision and stick with it, otherwise all these reports and commissions are simply wasting time.
*Speaking of that Ares Rocket test… how cool is this?