Albrecht on exploration and Griffin

Most of a Tuesday morning briefing by Mark Albrecht, president of International Launch Services, focused on the state of the commercial launch industry in general and ILS’ performance in particular. However, the conversation did drift to NASA’s exploration program. For that Albrecht could offer some unique insights: earlier in his career he served as executive secretary of the National Space Council during the Bush/Quayle administration, the last time the council existed in any meaningful form, and also during the last time the space agency and the White House were planning a bold exploration program.

Not surprisingly, Albrecht tried to sell the capabilities of the Atlas 5 (marketed by ILS) and potential evolved, more powerful variants of the rocket to carry out much of the exploration vision, although he admitted that these would never have the capability of a clean-sheet heavy-lift vehicle specifically designed to launch as much mass into orbit as possible. “My personal experience is that you tend to compromise and try to figure out what you can do with existing technologies to get the most capability out of it,” he said. He supported the provision in the new national space transportation policy that requires NASA and the Defense Department to work together on recommendations for heavy-lift launch capability. “I’ve been there, and you really don’t want to be sitting in your office in the White House designing space stuff.”

He also cautioned that schedule is a major concern for any launch vehicle or other large development program associated with the Vision. “One of the pressures in dealing with these kinds of exploration initiatives is that time moves at double time, and any part of the project that takes three or four or five years to show any progress is just tough.” He noted that Apollo is particularly remarkable in this respect because its big budgets survived in Congress for years during its development phase with little visible signs of progress. “That’s a tough trick in today’s environment, to have a program that’s going to take six years to really show something that the average Congressman or customer can go look at, and during those years sustain a really aggressive funding profile.”

Albrecht also seemed enthusiastic about the selection of Mike Griffin as NASA administrator, perhaps giving him one of the biggest compliments possible: “Mike Griffin wants to go.”

5 comments to Albrecht on exploration and Griffin

  • It won’t surprise anyone on this list that I think Albrecht’s analysis of the political situation is spot on. NASA’s win last year was fantastic, but every year it will get harder, probably a lot harder. We’ve got to achieve real measurable results in the next couple of years with the money and hardware we’ve got. If there is not some kind of infrastructure useful for a human mission sitting on the lunar surface in the next couple of years — even if it is just an experiment to separate oxygen from lunar dust and a tank to store it in — the VSE will go the route of most other initiatives since Apollo.

    — Donald

  • Mr Earl

    Donald has a good point. I can’t believe that NASA has set Dec. 2008 as the target for the CEV “Fly-Off”. This administration may support the vision but for it to continue into the next you need to have some hardware flying. Politicaly speakiing, Dec. 2007 would have been a better pick for the “Fly-off” date.

  • John Malkin

    I think we have an additional year since the Bush administration would be making the FY09 budget. The next president will not be elected on space policy period.

    I think by the end of the year we will know if VSE will survive beyond the Bush presidency. The past is no guarantee for future success or failure; times are very different than 5 years ago. I understand the disbelief by anyone over 30 that something real will not occur. I have been disappointed by America’s progress for years. I’m always hopeful and there are new words being heard amongst all the old rhetoric and it’s those new words that may change the world.

  • TORO

    VSE target date 2008? And what is it going to do?

    The “target” is NASA in control…living to a budget (with no space station overruns).

    NASA was in a mess, Columbia or no Columbia loss. What is amazing is how the (in the spirit of march madness) “hoopla” is exploration, yet the “goal” is return lemon to flight to complete albatross. It is all just politics, and a political mess.

    Is that a surprise, considering our deficits, social security off the feeding tube, immigration, no goal to stabilize population, and so on.

    I’ve got a solution. Let’s all vote in the next election. Let’s form the “get the same old deadweights out of office” party. But the new lightweights will turn into deadweights. So what then? Well, they are not all deadweights. Weed out the wheat from the weeds, and continue to vote.

  • Harold LaValley

    The fly off does little or nothing for us since it is not even a complete ship nor a full scale version of what it should be.