NASA administrator Charles Bolden didn’t make any major policy pronouncements in his speech Tuesday at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Washington, DC, although one wouldn’t expect him to in this “quiet period” before the FY11 budget release and any White House announcement about a chance in policy. “I’m sure all of you would like to know what direction President Obama will choose for the future of the space program,” he told a large audience of astronomers. “All I can say for now is that NASA is working closely with the Executive Office of the President in helping him determine the best path forward.”
He did, though, seek to assure the audience that there would be a future for NASA’s human spaceflight program, and that NASA’s science programs wouldn’t be made to pay for it. “The future of human spaceflight will not be paid for out of the hide of the science program,” he said, triggering a round of applause and cheers. Later, in response to a question about what kind of gap in human spaceflight there might be once the shuttle is retired, Bolden said, “I don’t know what the President’s decision is going to be. However, having been around him and talking to him and having watched him when he’s interfaced with astronauts and kids and everybody else, I do not see this President being the President who presides over the end of human spaceflight. I don’t see that.” (As for the gap, he said that if we don’t have some American-made option of putting crews in orbit by 2020, “we’re in big trouble, to be be quite honest.”)
Bolden also played up the need for enhanced international cooperation. “We must develop a stronger partnership with the international community,” he said. “The cost and complexity of space programs require that both the achievements and the costs be shared among many nations, for no one nation can carry this burden alone.” He cited as examples of potential international cooperation human space exploration, Mars sample returns, and future large space telescopes. He emphasized both in his speech and in the Q&A session that followed the need to make international partners “true” partners, “which means they sit at the table when you’re planning”, as opposed to offering them pieces of a specific architecture once it’s put together. As an example, he talked about how he encouraged the Japanese to develop versions of its HTV cargo vehicle that could return cargo, and from there a human-rated version that could transfer crews to and from the ISS.
He also indicated, though, that international cooperation would not be restricted to major flagship missions but also to smaller projects, and smaller “nontraditional” countries. He noted that he met with the head of Nigeria’s fledgling space agency at the IAC conference in South Korea in October. “They don’t do very much, but they want to be a part” of bigger programs. He added that he met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton just this morning to talk about “how could we enhance or expand our international collaboration, involve some small, nontraditional partners in what we do.”
What I personally will remember from Bolden speech is a) his push for international cooperation in the face of ITAR: read impossible in the current ITAR climate and b) we need to be more risk takers. I think NASA has become too risk averse to actually embrase (b), but perhaps this is exactly what the new administrator will try to push for. Kudos to Bolden for being so "human" in his emotions. He "choked" a few times when talking about his family, his extended astronaut family and the future of NASA. I think we need more people like him that are not afraid of saying hard things and are also not afraid of displaying their emotions.