The latest blog post at the Planetary Society’s page relating how #Space policy became the mess that it is in the waning days of the Barack #Obama presidency describes how the heavy lift Space Launch System came to be. Many critics of the SLS claim that it was a plot by pork happy congressmen to keep people employed in their districts. In fact, the rise of the big rocket was an inevitable result of the ham-handed way the Obama White House canceled President George W. Bush’s Constellation space exploration program. Congress on both sides of the aisle lost all confidence in the White House and #NASA where it came to space policy. Hence, the mandate of a particular design for the SLS that left the space agency with no wiggle room to undermine the congressional mandate to build a heavy lift rocket.
The fissure between the two sides of Pennsylvania Avenue was coupled by the conclusion long held by NASA engineers that heavy lift is necessary for any meaningful exploration beyond low Earth orbit. That assessment is now shared by the new space companies such as Blue Origin and SpaceX which are developing their own heavy lift rockets.
The money quote comes from Jim Kohlenberger, who was chief of staff for the White House Office of Science and Technology at the time the decision to kill Constellation was made. He admitted that in retrospect that things could have been handled differently. "The one thing NASA hasn't invented a time machine. If they did, I think we'd use it."
Leaving aside all of the other messes that might be fixed with a time machine, the mistakes made by Obama and his advisors such as science advisor John Holdren and Lori Garver, who was rewarded for her role is the trashing of Bush’s space exploration program by being named Deputy NASA Administrator, gives a sobering lesson for space policy going forward. The next president is going to have to fix the blunders made by the current one. He or she would be well advised to consult with Congress from the very beginning.