NASA's Charles Bolden: Americans Will 'Go To Deep Space'

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ABC NEWS: When you talk about American entities, can you tell me a little bit about how you see the division of labor between NASA and the private companies that are carrying most of the responsibilities of developing these spacecraft themselves?

BOLDEN: I always divide it into two things. One is access to space, access to Low Earth Orbit, and the other is exploration of space or exploration beyond Low Earth Orbit.

What will be significantly different from the way we've always done it before is that NASA will no longer procure vehicles and operate them for Low Earth Orbit activities. We are going to completely rely on our partners to do that work.

We'll still have oversight in terms of safety and engineering and the like, but we are not going to over-prescribe what they do and how they do it. They know that we want them to be able to carry humans and cargo to the International Space Station and other places, and we're just going to sit back and let them tell us when they need our help in determining how you do that.

We in turn are going to work with them hand-in-glove in the traditional sense in developing the exploration vehicles, so you will see that the way we operate our exploration beyond Low Earth Orbit will be more in line with the way that we have done Shuttle over the last 20 years and the way that we did the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs, where NASA and the industry team work hand in hand. Industry really built the vehicles, but NASA played a significant role in the design [of them].

ABC NEWS: I'm sure you've heard the criticism from some corners that the Constellation program that was developed under the last administration had support from both parties of Congress -- that it wasn't broken, so why are we deviating from it? How do you answer those questions?

BOLDEN: I would counter initially that to say that Constellation wasn't broken is not accurate.

Constellation, if you look at where we were, it was a deep space exploration program that failed to get funding from the administration and Congress for many years, and my predecessor, Mike Griffin, found himself having to take money from NASA's science and aeronautics budgets, having to de-scope what Constellation was supposed to do. If you talk to anybody who is knowledgeable on where Constellation was at the time that President Obama made the decision to terminate the program, it was a poor lunar exploration enterprise at best, because we didn't have landers. We didn't have any way to provide the infrastructure once you got to the surface of the Moon, and in fact, when I say we didn't have landers, we didn't have a way to get astronauts from lunar orbit to the surface.

So that is not being critical of the people in the Constellation program. That is saying that the assets that were provided to us through the previous administration and the Congress were insufficient to carry out the vision, if you will.

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