Happy birthday, Charlie. Now where's that SLS study?

Today is NASA administrator Charles Bolden's 65th birthday: he was born in Columbia, South Carolina, on August 19, 1946. So what did Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) get him for his birthday? A press release about the status of studies for the Space Launch System (SLS). According to Hutchison, the independent cost study for the SLS being carried out by Booz Allen Hamilton is now complete, and, she believes, "will confirm what myself and the NASA technical staff have known for many months – that the SLS plan is financially and technically sound, and that NASA should move forward immediately." The thrust of Hutchison's statement was that NASA should no longer delay in annoucing its design for the SLS, in large part to preserve jobs that are being lost as the shuttle program winds down. "NASA began reviewing additional alternatives for the SLS in November of 2010. Since then, more than over 5,500 jobs have been lost, many of which could have been transferred to the SLS program," she says. "This past June, Administrator Bolden confirmed to us that NASA had a design for the SLS. However, a formal announcement was delayed while the Administration awaited the results of an independent cost assessment, a delay that has cost 3,000 jobs." She adds another set of layoff notices are due next week, and thus, "We cannot delay in announcing the plan that can provide a focus and a purpose for workers that remain and for the industries that rely on our space program to survive." Unclear, however, is how many of those jobs would be directly relevant, at least in the near-term, to SLS development, and thus would be retained even if there was a final design for SLS. Sen. Hutchison said she has not seen the Booz Allen report yet-a copy of the report was due to be delivered to Congress today-but sounded confident that it would expose no issues with the agency's proposed design. "I expect the assessment will confirm what Congress and the NASA technical experts have known for nine months, that the Administration could have approved the vehicle design concept months ago, prevented the loss of thousands of jobs, and ensured U.S. leadership in space and science," she said. (To underscore that, the press release includes a timeline of the decisionmaking process for the SLS, which it dates all the way back to June 2010, when NASA issued a Broad Agency Announcement for heavy-lift studies.) I am reminded of a scene early in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan when Spock presents Kirk with a birthday present: an antique copy of A Tale of Two Cities. Kirk opens it up and starts to read: Kirk: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." Message, Spock? Spock: None that I'm conscious of. Except, of course, happy birthday. Surely, the best of times. Happy birthday, Administrator Bolden. Surely, the best of times. Right?

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