On Tuesday, August 5, the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee, also known as the Augustine panel after its chairman, Norman Augustine, held its next-to-last public meeting. The series began in Washington, D.C., on June 16 and moved on to Houston, Huntsville, and Cocoa Beach.
The meetings are open to the public and the press, and are intended to make the Committee's work as transparent as possible. The panel's charter, in a nutshell, is to conduct an independent review of U.S. human space flight and consider alternatives to the current architecture of the Vision for Space Exploration. The Committee will provide advice to President Obama about other ways to carry out the current Vision within NASA's current budget. The charter explicitly states that the Committee will leave any final decision solely with the president. After their final public meeting August 12 at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, the Committee will put the finishing touches on its report and submit it to the White House by the last day of the month.
One of many alternatives proposed to the panel would make use of existing space shuttle launch hardware, with the huge central fuel tank reengineered to house rocket engines at the bottom and a crew vehicle at the top. For some cool graphics of a related idea shown at the June 17 meeting, check out the video below.