And now, live from Washington, D.C, for the 876th time, let's meet our "What's My Line?" panel. Mr. William H. Gerstenmaier Associate Administrator for Space Operations National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Dr. Richard Gilbrech Associate Administrator, Exploration Systems Mission Directorate...AND (you can almost hear Jimmy Olson teeing it up), herrrrreeeee's the Emperor himself.
Only it wasn't a game show we were watching last week. It was the Space, Aeronautics, and Related Sciences Senate Subcommittee meeting on "Issues Facing the U.S. Space Program after Retirement of the Space Shuttle." And it wasn't John Daly as host. It was Senator Bill Nelson who led off the questioning.
"You’re stating that the policy of Nasa now is to have a hard date of September 30th of 2010 to shut off the space shuttle. What happens if you haven’t completed the remaining 13 flights on the manifest by that point?" the Senator asked.
Throwing himself in front of the oncoming dagger, aimed squarely at the Emperor, Bill Gerstenmaier talked about being able to complete the station and even working in two "contingency" flights before the cut-off date. If they can't make it, then they will come back to Congress and talk about options. But the plan is good enough that they shouldn't have to do that.
Seeing an opening to reinforce the answer, the Emperor points out that the last space shuttle flight is actually scheduled for Apr 2010, leaving 5 months of margin in the plan to complete the space station.
But the Good Senator presses on. "Looking at flight rate of four per year, what makes you think you can maintain that rate in 2009 and 2010 with only two orbiters?"
Gerst says we’ve been able to maintain fairly regularly. Options for flying Atlantis a couple of more times are available if needed.
And then, like on the old game show, its time to trip up the panel. “So what I’m hearing you saying is that you don’t have an absolute hard cut off date on Sept 30, 2010 in what you have just stated to me," says Senator Nelson. "And I would remind you that when Senator Hutchinson was the chairman of this subcommittee and we passed under her leadership the Nasa Authorization Act and in it in 'The Vision for Space Exploration' there is no mention of a hard cut off date there. So am I correct, I’m hearing you say 'no hard cut off date?'”
The Emperor doesn't see the twist coming. “No sir, we are...the President has directed that the space shuttle be retired by the end of 2010. And our budgetary planning does show that we will finish our last space station flight in fiscal 2010 and we have at this point five months of margin to do that. I believe we have a very solid plan to get there…”
Now its time for Senator Nelson to show why he's been in Congress for so long. Time to unmask the Imposter. "I want to challenge that, Dr. Griffin, because I’m reading from the President’s Vision for Space Exploration and it says quote, 'retire the space shuttle as soon as assembly of the international space station is completed, planned for the end of this decade.' End of quote. So where do you see that the President has required (a hard cut-off), is the word that you use?"
Its lonely at the top, standing naked in front of the world. For the Emperor now has no where to go. No one to turn to. Not even his most trusted minions can save him now.
“I stand corrected, sir.”
Unfortunately, that feeble response was not reported directly in the media. The fact that the Emperor didn't understand his boss's directions, or even the applicable law, is telling. That he is driving the space shuttle to an end date that has not been directed, but was in fact misinterpreted, shows that Nasa has not changed its ways since the days of the CAIB. Indeed, the schedule pressure to complete the station and retire the shuttle by 2010 is occurring under false pretenses.
"Normalization of deviation" is once again part of the Nasa culture, practiced by none other than the Emperor himself.