Charlie Bolden’s stand on NASA, Constellation and Ares I tests

Much has been made in the last week of Constellation Program manager Jeff Hanley’s decision to press ahead with Ares I test flights the day after President Barack Obama spoke about a new vision for space exploration that did not include Ares I and Ares V. Well, in his speech to Johnson Space Center on Wednesday, NASA chief Charlie Bolden suggested that Hanley was acting with his consent. He even made a veiled swipe at the Orlando Sentinel story last week that reported on Hanley’s e-mail and suggested it did not have NASA HQ backing. “Leaked memos and utilizing selected phrases out of context to indicate discord where there really is none only helps to inflame the debate rather than help us succeed. It also serves to hurt some very good people in our organization who are in fact doing what I ask and what Congress has directed,” Bolden said in a departure from his prepared remarks. So where does Charlie stand? It’s complicated. To figure it out, you need to read his response to a question from a JSC employee who asked Bolden about Hanley. Here it is: Q: I saw a news article recently where Mr. Jeff Hanley was referred to as a rogue NASA manager. I was wondering if you could address whether you and he are on the same page in terms of this fiscal year going into next year’s budget? Or do you feel like you and he are working at cross purposes? CB: (Stepping on question) Who? Jeff Hanley? I talk to Jeff quite a bit. As far as I am concerned, Jeff does exactly what I asked him to do, to be quite honest. And Jeff and NASA, we are in a tough situation in that we have to comply with the 2010 provision in law that says we cannot terminate [Constellation], we cannot do this. Everybody knows that the language is and yet we have to be responsive to my desire to move forward. You know my challenge for you is to work with Congress and get them to understand that the vision that we have is good for the nation and is the right way to get us beyond low Earth orbit. So we are constantly walking this tightrope of not offending anyone or breaking the law and yet being very responsive to what the president wants us to do and aggressively going forward. “And as I have told folks at headquarters, I’m a risk taker and I want to hang our toes right over the edge when it comes to finding out things we can do without getting reckless and running afoul of the law. I will not break the law. But we have gotta to be aggressive in the things that we do. “The ideas you all have come up so far with the Tiger Teams have been incredibly beneficial. And we are taking them so that people who are going to have to make decisions down the road can look at them, can see we do know what we are talking about. We do have a plan or plans. We do have some incredible ideas about technology development. But we have got to get a budget in place so that we can start to spend the money on that technology development. That’s just where we are. [He said the 10 guys who are running the NASA centers now are not having fun] “because you know they walk around with a target on their back or on their chest. And you know it depends on which of these two extremes that I talked about at the very beginning you happen to be in, either they are great or they suck. And it changes from day to day… “I want to be great for the president because if I am great for the president then I will be great for the nation because you all done incredible stuff. That’s our challenge. “I think we know how to do that but we have got to let go of the past and we have got to accept the fact that OK, however Constellation ends it’s going to end in an orderly fashion. We are going to leave it wrapped up so that any entity that comes along whether it’s commercial or otherwise who wants to take advantage of some of the things that are in the program that we aren’t using, can pick ‘em up and run with this that’s just the way it is. “Ares I…and some of you have not gotten the word, Ares I competes with commercial entities. Understand where we are. Ares I is an incredible rocket; an incredible rocket. But Ares I is a NASA-developed rocket and it competes with commercial entities and ever since the space act of 1988…it has said NASA will promote to the greatest extent possible the development of commercial space enterprise. Now you can argue with me all day long, I am not going to purposely promote something that is going to keep commercial entities from being competitive on the international market. And if you want to do that then you are going to fight with me. And if you are going to send me a message.. some of you are going to send me a message which some of you are going to do tomorrow or tonight which is going to say, ‘OK, I got the message: it’s either your way or the highway.’ I’m going to get that e-mail message because every time I talk to all of you, somebody takes what I am saying to mean it’s either my way or the highway. I am not saying that. I am saying that I promote informed pre-decisional dissent. That means differences of opinion in this stage, when we haven’t decided anything, we ought to be arguing and fighting and fussing among the team. And the team includes Boeing and Lockheed Martin, ATK, SpaceX, everybody. “If we are not talking to each other and arguing about what the best way forward is then we are missing the boat. This is pre-decisional time and we need to be debating. But, but – an important ‘but,’ OK, …Our heritage says once the pre-decisional discussion has been conducted …once we have been herded to a vote and said this is the way we are going forward, that’s not arbitrary. That’s a decision and that’s the way we are going forward. And I sit with the president and I argue with the president because he allows people to argue with him. He asks for dissent. That’s why I love him because he asks for dissent. But when he says, ‘OK, I got it. Let me think about it.’ And he comes back and he says, ‘OK, here’s the direction we’re going.’ Guess what? He’s my boss. And I’m going in the direction he says to go. Because I am PFC Bennatz and I have walked the point and I have given him the benefit of my best wisdom and he has weighed what I say with what the Defense Dept. says, and what the intelligence organizations say with what the Secretary of State says. There are a lot people other than NASA … “We have got to get one with what we know we need to do. Because the longer we argue about the road ahead, when we have been told what the road ahead is and we have been asked to put the details on to it, then the longer it is going to take us where we want to go.”

by Orlando Sentinel

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