NASA’s Office of Inspector General terminates audit of Artemis program with words of obviousness
by Douglas Messier Managing Editor
NASA’s Office of Inspector General (IG) has determined that the biggest problem the space agency faces in its Artemis lunar program is….wait for it….money.
“Based upon our audit work completed to date, we found that the most significant challenge NASA currently faces in returning humans to the Moon by 2024 is budget uncertainty, a challenge that could ultimately affect the Agency’s ability to safely accomplish the mission,” the IG said in a memorandum published on its website.
It looks as if the Trump Administration’s goal of landing astronauts on the moon in 2024 is expiring at about the same time as the administration itself. The fatal blow is being struck by Congress, not the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden.
The Senate Appropriations Committee has released a fiscal year 2021 funding bill that includes $1 billion for NASA to Human Landing System (HLS) that will take astronauts to and from the lunar surface as part of the Artemis program. The amount is far short of the $3.2 billion that NASA has said is needed for HLS to keep the 2024 landing on schedule.
In a decision that has disappointed his supporters, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine plans to leave his position even if president-elect Joe Biden asked him to stay.
Irene Klotz broke the news in Aviation Week. The story is behind a paywall, but Klotz did tweet:
“You need somebody who has a close relationship with the president of the U.S. … somebody trusted by the administration…. including OMB, National Space Council, National Security Council. I think I would not be the right person for that in a new administration –Bridenstine
Agency administrators usually change when a new president comes in, particularly if he is from a different party. Bridenstine is a former Republican Congressman from Oklahoma appointed by President Donald Trump, who was defeated by his Democratic opponent Biden last week.
Former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly has won election to the U.S. Senate from the state of Arizona, joining a small group of space explorers subsequently elected to serve in Congress.
The Associated Press reports that with 83 percent of the votes in, Kelly has 1,444,645 votes (52.6 percent) while Republican Sen. Martha McSally trails with 1,300,119 votes (47.4 percent). Kelly has declared victory and McSally has conceded the race.
Kelly, a Democrat who flew aboard the space shuttle four times, and McSally competed in a special election to fill the last two years of the late Republican Sen. John McCain’s six year term.
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Doug Lamborn PR) – Today, Representatives Doug Lamborn (CO-05), Kendra Horn (OK-05), Brian Babin (TX-36), Jason Crow (CO-06), Michael Waltz (FL-06), and Charlie Crist (FL-13) announced the creation of the House Space Force Caucus.
The co-chairs of the caucus also invited their House colleagues to join and support the sixth branch of the U.S. military. The Caucus will serve as an organization dedicated to educating Members and their staff about the U.S. Space Force as well as advocating on the Hill on behalf of our nation’s youngest military Service.
Former NASA Administrator Charles Bolden says he expects the agency’s expensive Space Launch System (SLS) will go away under during the next presidential term.
“SLS will go away. It could go away during a Biden administration or a next Trump administration … because at some point commercial entities are going to catch up,” he told Politico. “They are really going to build a heavy lift launch vehicle sort of like SLS that they will be able to fly for a much cheaper price than NASA can do SLS. That’s just the way it works.”
Congress will have something to say about the giant rocket designed to return astronauts to the moon under NASA’s Artemis program. Legislators have protected SLS and its two related programs, the Orion spacecraft and Exploration Ground Systems, despite large cost overruns and years of delays.
For once, a lack of anomalies is a problem for NASA.
The House of Representatives has passed a continuing resolution (CR) that will keep the government operating for seven weeks when the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1. A CR keeps government spending at FY 2019 levels until Congress passes and the president signs a new budget.
NASA, which the Trump Administration tasked earlier this year with landing astronauts on the moon by 2024, has sought a number of exceptions or anomalies to allow for new program starts. But, the Democratic House did not include any for the space agency in the CR.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said earlier this year that a CR instead of a new budget would be “devastating” to the Artemis program meeting the 2024 deadline.
Ken Bowersox, the NASA official who is overseeing Artemis, told the House space subcommittee this week that NASA would need funding for lunar landing contracts by the end of 2019 or the landing would slip into 2025.
The Republican-controlled Senate, which has been supportive of the Trump Administration, has not passed a CR yet.
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) has conceded the Senate race to Republican rival Rick Scott after a recount. Scott, who is leaving his job as Florida governor, won by 10,033 votes out of more than 8.1 million cast.
Nelson, who has been a strong supporter of NASA, has held the Senate seat for 18 years. He previously served in the House of Representatives from 1979 to 1991.
During his time in the House, he flew into space as a payload specialist aboard the space shuttle Columbia in 1986.
Scott has also been a strong supporter of the space program during his time as governor. Space Florida, which serves as the state’s space agency, has spent millions of dollars on infrastructure improvements and other incentives at Cape Canaveral to lure commercial companies to operate there.
Nelson was one of three prominent space advocates to lose re-election bids. Rep. John Culberson. Republican lost his bid to continue representing Texas’ 7th district. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) will also be departing after 30 years in the House.
WASHINGTON (House Science Committee PR) – Today, the U.S House of Representatives approved two bipartisan space bills that promote the Nation’s leadership in rocket propulsion development and provide licenses for commercial space support vehicles and flights. These bills will ensure America remains a leader in space exploration and development.