Oct 22 2009

Sen. Richard Shelby blasts unreleased Augustine panel report

Huntsville Times

By Shelby G. Spires

Alabama's senior lawmaker in Washington told the U.S. Senate today that the White House chartered panel tasked with setting the course of NASA's future is planning to release an incomplete report Thursday to the president.

"Without an honest and thorough examination of the safety and reliability aspects of the various designs and options for manned space flight, the findings of this report are worthless," said U.S. Sen Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa. "The only safety issue identified was an assessment of how 'hard' the panel thought each overall mission would be to achieve - not the safest means to complete the mission successfully.  Since safety is the most important issue, these omissions are startling."

The Augustine Commission, named for its chairman aerospace veteran Norman Augustine, is slated to publicly release a full report Thursday. However, the White House is scheduled to recieve a copy sometime today.

A summary of the report was released in September that suggested NASA fly out the six space shuttle flights left on its manifest, continue with International Space Station research and go forward with bold goals like sending astronauts to an asteroid. It did not suggest dropping lunar exploration or a long-term goal of going to Mars.

The panel had little to say about using the Marshall Space Flight Center-developed Ares I rocket as a replacement for the space shuttle. Mostly, this program, which NASA has spent four years and $3 billion to develop, was listed as "the program of record," and included for comparison to other efforts, board member Ed Crawley told The Times in September.