NASA Prepares 'Plan B' for New Space Plan

NASA Moves Space Shuttle Discovery to Launch Pad
Space shuttle Discovery is seen after completing its 3.4 mile trip from Kennedy's Vehicle Assembly Building to Launch Pad 39A on March 3, 2010 in preparation for an April 5 launch on NASA's STS-131 mission to the International Space Station. (Image credit: NASA)

Thisstory was updated at 4:15 p.m. ET.

WASHINGTON? NASA chief Charles Bolden is expected to discuss changes to U.S.President Barack Obama?s plan to scrap the agency?s Constellation program withat least one top lawmaker this week, according to an internal agency e-mailshared with Space News.

Inthe March 2 document, Michael Coats, director of NASA?s Johnson Space Center inHouston, wrote to the manned spaceflight center?s chief engineer, StephenAltemus, instructing him to establish a ?'PlanB' team? to draw up "a potential compromise," including a seriesof talking points for Bolden regarding development of a crewed spacecraft,heavy-lift launch vehicle and launch vehicle test program. The e-mail indicatesBolden is to discuss the compromise with House Science and Technology ChairmanBart Gordon (D-Tenn.) ?in a couple days.?

Bolden,however, said today that he did not request NASA human spaceflight officials tocome up with an alternative to Obama's plan.

"ThePresident?s Budget for NASA is my budget. I strongly support the priorities andthe directionfor NASA that he has put forward," Bolden said in a writtenstatement.  "I?m open to hearing ideas from any member of the NASAteam, but I did not ask anybody for an alternative to the President's plan andbudget. We have to be forward thinking and aggressive in our pursuit of newtechnologies to take us beyond low-Earth orbit, and the President's plan doesthis. After years of underinvestment in new technology and unrealisticbudgeting, we finally have an ambitious plan for NASA that sets the agency on areinvigorated path of space exploration."

Obama?s planto terminate Constellation, including the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle andAres family of rockets encountered bipartisan resistance from House and Senatelawmakers during budget hearings held in February. On Wednesday, SenatorKay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) proposed a new bill that, if passed, would extend the spaceshuttle programfor two years beyond its planned 2010 retirement.

Coats,in his e-mail, said Bolden agreed to the creation of a team to examine changesto the president's plan, adding that Bolden requested "talkingpoints"  in advance of his meeting with Gordon, and instructs Altemusto ?flesh this out, then report to Charlie through Doug Cooke,? the head ofNASA?s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate.

Cookewas not a recipient of the e-mail, though Coats sent copies to his deputy,Ellen Ochoa, Robert Lightfoot, director of NASA?s Marshall Space Flight Centerin Huntsville, Ala., Bob Cabana, director of NASA?s Kennedy Space Center inFlorida, Constellation Program Manager Jeff Hanley, Orion Program Manager MarkGeyer and Edward Mango, launch director for Constellation?s Ares 1-X flighttest program. Johnson, Kennedy and Marshall all play central roles inConstellation?s development.

?Steve[,]Robert and I talked to Charlie and he agreed to let us set up a ?Plan B? team(my term, since Chairman Gordon asked Charlie about his ?plan B? at thehearing) to look at what a potential compromise might look like,? Coats wrote,referring to a Feb. 25 hearing before the House Science and TechnologyCommittee in which Gordon urged Bolden to be open to compromise in order toachieve consensus in Congress.

Inthe e-mail, Coats told Altemus to contact Mango, Geyer and Gary Lyles, NASA?sassociate director for technical management at Marshall, ?to develop that onepager quickly, and set up a team (you can name it anything you want?I don?trecommend Constellation or Orion).?

Inaddition, while Obama?sbudget proposal calls for a $6 billion increase to NASA?s top-line spendingover the next five years, Coats urged Altemus to keep the alternate proposal?scost estimates in mind.

?Livingwithin the budget is a huge issue, since it?s doubtful we?ll get more funding,?he wrote.

Clickhereto read the entire e-mail.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect comments from NASA chief Charles Bolden to clarify the "Plan B" team eyeing potential changes to President Barack Obama's proposed space plan.

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SpaceNews Staff Writer

Amy Klamper is a space reporter and former staff writer for the space industry news publication SpaceNews. From 2004 to 2010, Amy covered U.S. space policy, NASA and space industry professionals for SpaceNews. Her stories included profiles on major players in the space industry, space policy work in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, as well as national policy set by the White House.