Sen. Shelby Calls for IG Investigation of Augustine Committee Staff

Sen. Shelby Calls for IG Investigation of Augustine Committee Staff

Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), ranking member of the Senate appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA, is calling for an investigation by the NASA Inspector General (IG) of the staff of the Augustine committee that recently submitted its report on the future of the human space flight program.

In a December 14 letter to NASA IG Paul Martin available on his Senate website, Sen. Shelby asserts that several members of the committee’s staff were registered lobbyists and some “have taken advantage of their temporary roles on the Commission [sic] to further their personal business.” The report, Seeking A Human Spaceflight Program Worthy Of A Nation, contains a three-page listing of “committee staff” in Appendix B, but Sen. Shebly states that there were other lobbyists who worked as committee staff that “are not even acknowledged in the report. This is both disturbing and unconscionable.”

Sen. Shelby represents the State of Alabama, home to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and the Ares I and Ares V launch vehicle programs that are part of NASA’s Project Constellation. NASA initiated Constellation in response to a 2004 directive from President George W. Bush to return humans to the Moon by 2020 and someday send them to Mars.

The Augustine committee report was not favorable towards Ares I, whose primary function is to take astronauts back and forth to the International Space Station (ISS). The Augustine committee did not make recommendations — it only offered options — but between the words in the report and congressional testimony by the committee’s chair, Norman Augustine, the message clearly was that the comparatively routine task of delivering people and cargo to ISS should be handed off to the commercial sector while NASA focuses on more challenging destinations beyond low Earth orbit (LEO).

If that course were chosen, there would be no need for Ares I. On the other hand, the committee stressed the need for a larger “heavy lift” launch vehicle like the Ares V for the beyond-LEO missions. Defending Ares I, Sen. Shelby offered a blistering assessment of the commercial sector’s ability to assume responsibility for ISS transportation during a May 21 congressional hearing (read a summary of that hearing). His criticism of the Augustine committee has continued since then.

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