Former shuttle program manager says 2011 budget proposal sets NASA up for failure

NASA's $19 billion 2011 budget authorization, approved late Wednesday when the House went along with the Senate's proposed spending plan, will not pay for the programs Congress and the White House are asking the agency to carry out, former shuttle Program Manager Wayne Hale wrote Friday.

"What is that definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results," Hale wrote in his personal blog. "The U.S. Congress is setting NASA up again, just like it has over and over again, for failure."
Wayne Hale, talking to reporters during a 2006 shuttle rollout to the launch pad. (Photo: CBS News/William Harwood)

Hale, a respected shuttle ascent-and-entry flight director who retired at the end of July, said the authorization bill was a compromise and "as with all compromises, no faction got everything they wanted, some got nothing; no one is entirely happy, most are glumly resigned. And so, I too, am not happy -- but not for the typical reasons."

NASA is working to complete the International Space Station and retire the space shuttle, both post-Columbia directives of the Bush administration. The fiscal 2011 authorization package approves one additional shuttle flight, extends station operations through 2020, calls for development of a new heavy-lift rocket, continued work on a manned spacecraft for deep space exploration and development of new commercial spacecraft to ferry astronauts and cargo to and from low-Earth orbit.

NASA also has been asked to invest in new technologies and to modernize launch facilities at the Kennedy Space Center. The Bush administration's Constellation moon program, deemed unaffordable by President Obama, is being canceled after an expenditure of some $11 billion.

The 2011 authorization approved this week represents a compromise between the Obama administration's initial 2011 budget proposal, which deferred development of a new heavy-lift rocket and did not specify a timetable for deep space exploration, and a House version that gutted the commercial spaceflight initiative in favor of retaining elements of the Constellation program.

Under the new spending plan, NASA will continue to operate the space station, buying seats aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft to ferry U.S. astronauts to and from the outpost until commercial spacecraft are available. At the same time, the agency will accelerate development of a major new government-managed heavy lift rocket system, one that does not yet have defined mission requirements, and support the development of new commercial launchers.

"The authorization bill asks NASA to do, once more, more things than there is money to do them with," Hale wrote. "Several of the directives, both old and new, have woefully underestimated budgets attached. Unfortunately this is not a new phenomenon; it has been going on for decades. More than one blue ribbon commission report has emphasized the need to have NASA’s appropriated budget match the authorized mission. This authorization bill fails to heed that advice.

"Expect in a couple of years there will be speeches made on capitol hill by congressmen who are shocked, shocked that some of NASA’s projects are behind schedule and over budget. There is not enough in the authorization budget estimates to make them successful. What is that definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. The U.S. Congress is setting NASA up again, just like it has over and over again, for failure."

The U.S. government currently is operating under a "continuing resolution," which freezes federal spending at 2010 levels.

"Sometime after the election, probably after January, Congress will get around to approving an appropriations bill for FY 2011 for NASA," Hale wrote. "Not all the programs that have been authorized will get the money they expect. Some few lucky programs will get a pittance more; most will have to make do with reductions from the estimates the authorizers made. Estimates which were generally inadequate in the first place."