One of the spins offered by supporters of President Barack Obama’s space policy is that the Second Augustine Committee concluded that President George W. Bush’s Constellation space exploration program was “not executable” for the budget that existed at the time. The Obama administration, with regret, canceled Constellation and eventually hammered out a compromise Journey to Mars program. But Paul Spudis, a planetary geologist who frequently writes on space policy, suggests that the fix was in from the beginning. Indeed, he points to a study from NASA’s Johnson Spaceflight Center that might have gotten Constellation moving again, primarily by changing the design of the heavy-lift launch vehicle planned at the time.

Spudis references a statement made by Leroy Chiao, a member of the Augustine Committee, at a recent space conference at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University in Houston. “It came down to us on the committee to not talk too much about the Moon, because there was no way this administration was going to go there because it was W’s program.” In other words, the Obama administration let it be known from the beginning that the moon was off the table.

To be sure, the Committee offered two options called “Moon First” and “Flexible Path” that would have caused NASA’s budget to increase by $3 billion a year. The Obama White House rejected both options, canceled Constellation, and instituted technology and heavy lift rocket studies that may or may not have led to a restart of human exploration at some undetermined future date.

What Chiao suggested and Spudis is outright saying is that the Augustine Committee was a sham from the beginning. Its conclusions were already predetermined, that a space exploration program would cost more money than the Obama administration was willing to pay. A NASA proposal that Spudis claims would not have cost more money was ignored.

The consequences of the midnight assassination of the Constellation program, as the Daily Caller notes, have been severe. American space allies such as the European Union have become alienated. China is steadily forging ahead, with a space station and lunar missions of increasing sophistication in the works.

The mess is among many that the next president will have to clean.

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