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Best short summary: Norm Augustine's testimony to Congress http://legislative.nasa.gov/hearings/5-12-10%20AUGUSTINE.pdf
"...the mismatch of ends and means coupled with technical problems that were encountered on the Ares I program were such that during its first four years the program slipped between three and five years...". Read that again. After four years of development and billions of $, the objective was no closer than it was at the start of the program. I could cut NASA some slack on that if they were attempting to develop new technology, but the Ares I program was largely based on well-understood technology and an existing industrial production base.
The Program Manager does not set the budget and he was not delivered the budget that was estimated for the job. So maybe the dismissal was unfair. But the PM's job is explicitly to develop the program within the actual (not wished for) triangle of resources, schedule and performance. If the delivered resources are so inadequate that the completion date never gets closer, then something else needs to change - this is the PM's job.
First of all - take a look at the joint US-China statement - the only thing we have agreed to is a high-level visit. Not a marriage, maybe just a coffee date.
Second - what is this really about? Probably not NASA. More likely this is just a deal sweetener for something else we want, like:
- devalue the Chinese currency (see NYTimes this week)
- improve WMD nonproliferation efforts
- green technology
At the NASA level, which is at best a secondary concern of most US politicos, here are some possibilities:
- hedge against Russian monopoly of US human access to space during the Gap
- engagement may offer US a better view into Chinese goals and means re: space than isolation would
- possibly a veiled threat to NASA: Ares is not the only game in town: get your act together
I am surprised the following report has not been posted or submitted to
Future of Human Spaceflight (16-page PDF)
The MIT Space, Policy & Society Research Group took a step back from the "do this" / "no, do that" debate and examined the very questions being posed by the National Academy of Sciences.
The above link has a 16-page document that examines the reasons for a human spaceflight program. The report is compelling, challenging and thought-provoking.
Give it a read!