More commentary about the new exploration initiative

In an essay published Thursday, SPACE.com science writer Robert Roy Britt comments on the lack of support for the new space initiative within Congress, bringing up a number of points discussed here and elsewhere recently. He also notes recent reports that the bulk of the budget increase NASA has asked for will go to support the shuttle and station programs, rather than the initiative. Britt wonders if that money is well-spent:

While the body tasked with overseeing NASA’s internal overhaul in the wake of the Columbia disaster investigation, the Stafford-Covey Task Group, says the agency is completing the steps needed to launch the orbiters, engineers dealing with the day-to-day work of retrofitting and repairing the aging fleet have a dimmer view. The longer they work to fix the flawed spacecraft, the more problems they find. They may be safeguarding the fleet straight into the Smithsonian.

Meanwhile, Frank Sietzen, writing for UPI, also argues that “interest by the public and politicians has failed to ignite.” He notes that there appears to have been a lack of a strategy to promote the plan once it was announced in January, an assessment others—myself included—concur with. (Quote: “‘They thought that we would just stand up and salute,’ one congressional staffer lamented.”) One professor quoted in the article argues that the cost and “grimness” of the Iraq war has made many wary of supporting something as “frivolous” as space exploration. John Pike is quoted in the article arguing that the plan is a scheme by the Bush Administration to abandon manned spaceflight, a claim that seems difficult to support.

6 comments to More commentary about the new exploration initiative

  • Bill White

    My opinion?

    Stand down the orbiter, today. Within 24 hours thereafter, start working on shuttle derived uncrewed cargo lifters and the EELV carried man-rated CEV.

    Complete ISS with shuttle B/C or Proton unless diplomacy allows us to abandon it completely. Then, return to the Moon (and on to Mars) sooner rather than later.

    = = =

    Boeing wants an all-EELV Project Constellation.

    Thiokol and the mayor of New Orleans both want a shuttle derived component to Project Constellation.

    More political wars, meaning a great future for this web site.

  • As I predicted, the so-called Bush Space Initiative was doomed to failure for precisely the reason I indicated in an article I wrote for The Space Review a few months ago: the moneys are at the mercy of politics. At the time, and to this day, I support a space economic development plan that focuses on promoting and supporting commercial space activity, with government as a customer.

    I agree that a Shuttle derived vehicle makes sense, particularly since some believe such a vehicle (with an introduction in 2008) can be configured to lift 225,000 pounds to LEO by the 2011-2015 timeframe (I might suggest different, less complex engines currently in the inventory, however). It seems to me the vehicle could put ISS components in orbit (possibly temporarilly dock with ISS for weeks or months to allow crews to catch up if necessary). Soyuz can continue to send personnel to the station, and Progress/ATV can continue to provide supplies. The Soyuz can also help jump start the nascent orbital passenger transportation market, albeit slowly (it’s already begun, sort of). I highly recommend the ISS be privatized, with government as an anchor tennant (not necessarilly just for research, which is not a money maker at this time, but for other commercial activities both serious and highly innovative). Concurrently, high-risk, high-cost RLV/hypersonic work should be funded by the government, with technologies and concepts turned over to the private sector. If the government wants a CEV for its future plans, then such a spacecraft, in combination with EELVs, should be pursued with the understanding that it will be privately operated.

    Finally, I recommend that we include China as a partner in our civil space activity. Not doing so is a political mistake. Every effort should be made to encourage cooperation between government space programs while promoting competition between commercial players. The military should also be allowed to pursue those space platforms it feels it should in order to protect the country, so long as such activity does not violate any treaties or agreements.

  • Harold LaValley

    So now lets get out there and run this race to the moon or to Mars so that we will not end up there second to any other nations. OOPS, I forgot Nasa can not even get out of the starting gate due to the budget woos for those that do not want to sign onto any budget increases even if they are not Nasa’s as well. At this rate we will not be going in this century to any of the SEI vision locations or to any other place other than LEO.
    So why do the Boeing’s and Lockheed hold onto the old premise of only doing business for Nasa or for the Military. They do nothing without contracts, when they themselves know without a capsule for crews to do manned flight in, there is no manned flights. So what is stopping them from building what is needed for exploration?

  • Dwayne A. Day

    I think that these stories about the space vision being dead are premature. Certainly, I think that there is much that NASA could do better in selling this plan. But there are no clear indications that it is in big trouble. Natural bumps on the road, sure, but that’s to be somewhat expected.

    John Logsdon stated during his Senate testimony on Tuesday that he has an op-ed appearing in Space News this week (probably) that will compare the current call for more details and budget figures to Kennedy’s Apollo proposal. Logsdon will note that back then it took NASA over a year to select a mission mode and a launch vehicle, and the budget figures had to be substantially revised by summer/fall of 1962. So his call would be for Congress to be a little more patient and understanding that NASA is trying to work these things out. I agree with that sentiment.

    We could also compare this latest effort to the Space Exploration Initiative in 1989. There I believe the signs were much more negative from the beginning. Congress killed several advanced technology programs by the fall of 1989, I believe, in order to signify its displeasure. So we should see what happens budget-wise this time. If Congress kills things like the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, for instance, that might be a sure sign that the plan is not going to get off the ground.

    All things considered, I think that _nobody_ can predict anything about the new plan until after the election. Yes, it could be dead before then, but that is going to be the real measure.

  • Bill Turner

    The big thing with the space exploration program is that it sets a date for shuttle retirement. (Correct me if I’m wrong, but is shuttle retirement the big difference between this program and the old Space Exploration Initiative http://history.nasa.gov/sei.htm ?) From there, it’s a natural progression to the space exploration program.

    You have to replace the shuttle with a crewed vehicle, and this vehicle has to be safer and without any cargo. So, an Apollo-style capsule and module design. Now capsules and modules allow the vehicle to go further than the shuttle, to the moon, Mars, etc.

    Perhaps if we emphasize “shuttle replacement”, not “Moon-Mars”, we can get a better response from the media and Congress. Moon-Mars is controversial, but everyone seems to agree that the shuttle needs replacing.

  • Bill Turner

    Washington Post front page


    Bush’s ‘Vision’ For Space Clouded
    Questions, Doubts Mount in Congress
    By Guy Gugliotta
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Saturday, May 1, 2004; Page A01