cxp augustine slide.GIF

credit: NASA / caption: plenty has been done and there is plenty more for Constellation

When this blogger saw the headline of this 30 March article by Aviation Week’s senior space editor Frank Morring it seemed that the “program of record” that dare not speak its name had finally broken cover and spoken to the media after a self imposed vow of silence

But alas no, even Aviation Week’s article had no detail on what was going on with Constellation and so there was still everything to play for, time to hit the phones and email – again

Now, by way of leaked emails, it seems that Constellation’s management are preparing for any eventuality

But way back at the beginning on the 1 February the newly published fiscal year 2011 (1 October 2010 to 30 September 2011) budget request for NASA had notably continued funding the Moon return Constellation programme until 2012, even if it was cancelled this year

This blogger decided that whatever anyone thought of the programme’s merit it was worth giving the space agency a call. A call to find out how the Ares and Orion and lunar surface systems project offices were planning to spend in FY2010 and FY2011 the $8 billion odd budgeted for for Constellation

After all, exploration mission directorate associate administrator Doug Cooke had told us media during a 1 February week telecon that capabilities developed during Constellation would be considered, and probably used, for president Barack Obama’s flexible path to all sorts of places including Mars at various times in the future

It was a journey, a telecommunications expedition, that at the beginning seemed to bear fruit. One thing this blogger did get confirmed is that the Altair project office had not been “defunded” – as reported elsewhere – but its activities had become part of the lunar surface systems project. Then out of the blue NASA released a short statement about how the Constellation programme, as a whole, had passed its preliminary design review. Other than that though the going was not good

Carrots were dangled about better times to talk in the near future with suggestions of personnel changes. One came away from the phone calls with public affairs wondering what could possibly be going on or not, as the case maybe

One thing this blog believed it did know, due to statements by NASA personnel at the 60th International Astronautical Congress in south Korea, was that some of the Constellation team were investigating heavy lift concepts because NASA administrator Charles Bolden wanted them too. However this was back when heavy lift wasn’t a decision to be left to 2015

But that was 2009 and this was 2010 and as Bolden faltered, and blubbed, at every Congressional hearing and the anti-Obama budget rhetoric got louder any hope of talking to the people running Constellation’s project offices seemed to get more distant

Whatever programme or project anyone works if its taxpayer funded the general assumption in free societes is that transparency is a given. What that taxpayer money is being spent on should be disclosed. This blogger recalls a testy exchange during one Constellation telecon between a US journalist and a project office manager when the manager declined to give a figure for development expenditure

Constellation has been ignored by much of the media for some time now because of the assumption that it is a lame duck, a dead parrot even. But it is an expired parrot that will eat up billions of dollars even if its cancelled and now we know its Orion crew exploration vehicle won’t be – and those that declared the Ares I dead are even having to report that it might not be 

It is clear that the political process to resolve the logjam of vehement Congressional opposition to Obama’s plan is going to last for the rest of this year. It is also highly likely that the FY2011 budget will not be passed by 30 September, meaning NASA has to operate on FY2010 funding

Six months plus of silence from a programme that is spending hundreds of millions of dollars a month is not acceptable. Quarterely videos are not sufficient and the Constellation team should restart the regular telecons that have previously been organised. Constellation has not been cancelled its funding is still the law and until Obama’s FY2011 budget is passed intact that situation is not going to change