Congress

Appropriation and authorization update

First, the Senate Approprations Committee approved unanimously the Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations bill. The press release announcing the bill’s approval offers no details, but since the NASA overall budget number remains unchanged at $16.4 billion, it seems the full committee did little or nothing to change the subcommittee’s work earlier this week.

What did get more attention, though, was the passage by the Senate Commerce Committee of a NASA authorization bill, S.1281. Besides the provisions originally reported, the press release about the legislation notes that the bill “also requires NASA to conduct a balanced and broad science program, including the development of a plan for a Shuttle servicing mission to Hubble after completion of the first two ‘return-to-flight’ Shuttle missions, unless such a mission would compromise astronaut safety or the integrity of NASA’s other missions.” NASA must also “ensure diverse and growing utilization of and benefits from the ISS.”

The committee pushed aside two proposed amendments to the bill, the Houston Chronicle reported. One, proposed by Sen. George Allen (R-VA), would have set minimum funding levels for aeronautics, while the other, by Sen. John Sununu (R-NH), would have set similar funding thresholds for science missions. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison opposed the amendments, according to the report, since they would “undermine the transition to the crew [exploration] vehicle.” On aeronautics in particular, the Hampton Roads Daily Press reported that Hutchison would like to see the Defense Department pick up more of the tab on aeronautics research.

The Chronicle article also quoted House Majority Leader as saying that the full House will vote on its version of the authorization bill either in July or in September, after the summer recess. The space subcommittee of the House Science Committee may take up its bill in the next week or so.

35 comments to Appropriation and authorization update

  • Hutchison is intent on punishing success and rewarding failure. She doesn’t like aeronautics research that is actually useful for the industry, but she is convinced that the space station will cure cancer. She eats out of the palms of the worst elements at NASA.

  • Mark my words, succumbing to pressure for a “balanced and broad science program,” combined with the apparent decision to go with a Shuttle-derived HLV, will go down in history as the end of Mr. Bush’s Vision for Space Exploration. Once Congress gets done, NASA will be back to spending a little bit on everything, and grand exploration visions will die a slow death by starvation. Worse, we can’t really afford to maintain one government launch system, let alone three, yet that is what NASA appears to have committed us to doing. I still expect that developing and maintaining a Shuttle-derived vehicle will eat up every penny NASA has for VSE, leaving nothing for actually going anywhere.

    I sincerely hope that I am wrong, but I’ll bet money that we have just seen the end of the VSE — dying unmarked, without even a whimper.

    – Donald

  • I agree that the “balanced and broad” approach is a mistake. To be “balanced and broad” means to reward success and failure together. That is not as bad as punishing success and rewarding failure, but it is not as good as rewarding success and punishing failure.

    In order to properly punish failure — and save a lot of money too — NASA should cancel the space shuttle and the space station as soon as possible.
    To his great credit, Griffin largely agrees with that.

  • Mike Puckett

    “Balanced and Broad”

    Subjective and in the eye of the beholder.

  • Dfens

    What did I tell you? The programs have too much power. As soon as Griffin started making waves, the program managers all ran to their congressmen whining about how their gravy train was starting to congeal. Griffin will just be another name on a wall if he doesn’t get the programs cut down to size. He’ll go down in history as another guy who made lots of noise and ended up accomplishing nothing just like Goldin.

    The sad thing is, it will be a scorched Earth victory for congress and their programs when their whole welfare program comes to an end.

  • Keith Cowing

    Kuperberg: In order to properly punish failure — and save a lot of money too — NASA should cancel the space shuttle and the space station as soon as possible. To his great credit, Griffin largely agrees with that.

    When has Griffin said that he’d “cancel” the ISS?

    C’mon Greg: how about a few verifiable facts to back up your rants?

  • A fair point; I exaggerated. Griffin is taking 2010 as a hard deadline for retiring the space shuttle. If NASA can stick to that, there is a good chance that it really will be the end of the space station. That’s what I had in mind as a cancellation. But I grant you that it is still five years away, and that might not amount to a cancellation.

    Part of what I had in mind is that on the one hand, Griffin has criticized the space station in the past, and on the other hand, he isn’t all-powerful. So I was taking the 2010 deadline to mean as little space shuttle and space station as possible. Given the hysteria in Congress about the human spaceflight “gap”, it might well be the realistic mininum.

    I did say “largely” rather than “completely”.

  • Keith Cowing

    A fair point; I exaggerated. Griffin is taking 2010 as a hard deadline for retiring the space shuttle. If NASA can stick to that, there is a good chance that it really will be the end of the space station.

    Why woudl this be the end of the space station? No one has talked about doing away with Progress or Soyuz – and if Griffin has his way (you clearly seem to think he does) then he will also have his way and the U.S. will have an accelerated CEV program that will allow CEV visits to the ISS much closer to 2010 than currently envisioned. If anything Griffin is working to make it MORE likely that ISS will continue to be operated beyond 2010 by the U.S.

    You really need to think before you post.

  • Dfens

    If NASA goes with a Shuttle-C type of vehicle, suddenly space station has a reason to exist. It hardly makes sense to cancel it at that point.

  • Keith Cowing

    WRT Shuttle -C – I agree. Who is to say that some of that ISS hardware might not one day be scavanged by another program for other uses – uses that call for it to be detached from the ISS – once the U.S. government’s use has reached an end?

  • Dfens

    As expensive as those aluminum tubes were that they used to make those modules, you’d think they’d be useful for something other than a bright flash in the upper atmosphere. I don’t think I’ve ever see a larger machined aluminum part. Well, maybe the wing spars for the C-5, but you don’t typically see the milled part of those.

  • Mike Puckett

    Not to mention Griffin’s support for alt access for cargo and crew.

    Remember, the station is unfinished and is still (barely) hanging on with just Soyuz/progress.

    By 2010 it will have Soyuz/Progress, Euro ATV, Japanese HTV, possible private ATV and private CXV with CEV near ready and possibly Clipper too. Not to mention possible SDV’s.

    I think if half that pans out, the Orbiter will be no loss at all by that point.

  • Dfens

    As much as I hated working on station, and as wrong as it was for the companies involved to milk the US taxpayer the way they did, it ended up being a positive thing. It certainly highlighted our need for a heavy launch capability. Also, the overlap between its mission and that of the shuttle set up a situation where one of the two had to go. I hope it ends up being shuttle that goes.

    Politically, it also set up a competing project within NASA and thus a competing power base. The dead-end shuttle would probably continue till the bitter end of NASA had station not happened.

  • How many more times is the “gravy train” argument going to be used as the basis for understanding NASA decision making?

    On the one hand it’s clearly true that individuals and groups fight for their own survival within an organization, on the other hand *every* type and size of organization has to contend with this “fact of life”. It’s the job of effective management to ensure that these forces are aligned with the primary direction of the organization, and that direction in NASA’s case is as clear as day. Return the Shuttle to flight, finish the ISS and retire the Shuttle as soon as possible; build the CEV and a launcher man enough to send it to the Moon and Mars.

    Forget the gravy train, it’s not going anywhere. Focus on the NASA spirit, once reignited that spirit will take NASA back to exploring space.

  • Edward Wright

    > By 2010 it will have Soyuz/Progress, Euro ATV, Japanese HTV, possible private ATV and private CXV
    > with CEV near ready and possibly Clipper too. Not to mention possible SDV’s.

    Who’s going to pay for Soyuz, Progress, Euro ATV, Japanese ATV, SDV, EELV, CEV, Clipper, and possibly private ATV and CXV?

    You make it sound like ISS is a bustling Babylon 5. How much can six astronauts eat? How many science experiments can they do?

    Griffin doesn’t need a dozen launch vehicles to maintain ISS, and he can’t afford a dozen launch vehicles. Especially the expensive heavy-lift vehicles he’s fallen in love with.

    Griffin is not going to “retire the Shuttle” — he claims the President never called for that. He’s just going to retire the orbiters, then build a bigger and more expensive Shuttle for heavy cargos.

    As for recycling ISS modules, that overlooks the fact that those modules were designed for 10-year lifetimes.

    NASA isn’t going anywhere by focusing on “spirit” and ignoring economics. Building bigger and more expensive rockets just to prove you are “man enough” keeps NASA locked in the same vicious cycle it’s been in for 40 years. (Not to mention alienating 51% of all voters.)

  • Mike Puckett

    “> By 2010 it will have Soyuz/Progress, Euro ATV, Japanese HTV, possible private ATV and private CXV
    > with CEV near ready and possibly Clipper too. Not to mention possible SDV’s.

    Who’s going to pay for Soyuz, Progress, Euro ATV, Japanese ATV, SDV, EELV, CEV, Clipper, and possibly private ATV and CXV?”

    The same people who are paying for them now, the various goveernment space agencies. Most of the above listed is already in the works.

  • Edward Wright

    > The same people who are paying for them now, the various goveernment
    > space agencies. Most of the above listed is already in the works.

    Thos government space agencies (in reality, mostly NASA, with minor contributions by Russia and ESA) can barely afford to operate what they have now. Where are they going to get the additional money to operate Shuttle C plus all those other things? And build payloads to fly on all of them?

    Do you have a practical funding scheme for this, or is it another case of “the government should take all the money Americans spend on beer and give it to NASA”?

  • Matthew Corey Brown

    Now that i’ve been able to read the full text of the bill, my fears have been put to rest.

    Even though retiring the shuttle by 2010 is stated not possible unless our access to space is assured by other means. (And the jargon here when i say shuttle i mean the orbiter and not the full of the STS, Space Transport System.) They do put in the ground work for another bill to retire it at that date or earlier. There is still no governmental incentive for Boeing or Lockheed to finish on time. But there is a strong hint (heck its a 2 by 4) for the Adminstrator to persue commercial means of achieving it also.

    in that vein T/space’s lunar exploration project docs on there site put a case that altered the philosphy of how NASA does business, that feeling is mimiced in this bill. Nudges NASA to dole out what is sustainable to the private sectors, and whats not sustainable that doesn’t have a sustable solution but is needed for a short term should fall into NASA and use pre exsisting knowledge, alla a Shuttle-Derived HLV.

    there are alot of little things that, although non commital, empowers Mike to be pro commercialisation and longterm space development.

  • This thread has developed an air of unreality. The space station and the shuttle are designed for each other, with the exception of Russian modules that are designed for Russian rockets. It will be very difficult for any other spacecraft to participate in this show, especially spacecraft that are not yet built, in some cases not yet even invented. Moreover, NASA designed the space station for its own purposes; no one else wants it. Washington will also not tolerate fully foreign or fully private access to it; that is what the INA and the “human spaceflight gap” are really about.

    So there is no evidence that the space station will survive if NASA does not have human spaceflight in 2010. The federal government will probably still have a big budget deficit and petulant, nationalistic leadership. The space station’s only realistic hope (never mind whether it deserves hope) will be some new space vehicle. Whatever it really is, it will undoubtedly be called “the CEV”. They have five years to invent it from scratch in the midst of other obligations and tight budgets. And Griffin must have plans for it other than to service a space station that he doesn’t really like anyway.

    Yes, I know that there also maverick private projects like t/Space. As long as they stay away from NASA’s human spaceflight boondoggle, I don’t object to their trying. And stay away is what they are likely to do, because, for example, t/Space said that NASA’s paperwork is a killer.

  • Greg, here you are dead wrong.

    The Shuttle and _constructing_ the Space Station were made for each other. Once the SS is complete, and a few maintenance items are resized, I agree with everyone else the SS has no real need for the Shuttle (or any other large launch vehicle, for that matter).

    You are probably correct that the government will never drop control of the project as long as it is flying, but that does not mean that they will not use a good deal of commercial launch capacity to keep it running.

    t/Space, et al, had better hope the Station does stay up there because it is the only real, existing market that can get them from here to there. Greg, you really need to read up some history on how new frontiers were opened in the past. It almost always starts with a small number of government-run bases of some sort, deployed for any of a number of reasons that often don’t make any real sense (frequently, they are religious reasons, though usually military), and, over time, supplying those bases leads you to outlits like the British East India Company or the American railroad barrons. They’re evil crooks, but they do get you from here to there, and they do get costs down to where successor public companies can sometimes make a profit.

    I know of no other model that is known to work.

    However, I do agree with you that the biggest weakness of all this is, “The federal government will probably still have a big budget deficit and petulant, nationalistic leadership.” For any of this to pan out, we have to be able to afford the Space Station, and later the Lunar Base and, say, a Phobos base. Mr. Bush is doing his damndest to make sure that we can’t.

    – Donald

  • But the space station will never be complete.

  • That does not matter in the least, which is something you, other space scientists, and others wrapped up in the problems of today, cannot seem to comprehend.

    In an historic and economic sense, the Space Station only needs to be there and to require cargo. For our purposes — expanding the commercial launch industry and starting the earliest beginnings of trade — wasteful as it sounds, those are the only two requirements it needs to fulfill. Anything else is gravy.

    This is why Hutchinson’s proposal makes a weird kind of sense. Again, to start the positive feedback of trade, it does not matter why the Station is there, only that it is. Institutionalizing it could only help.

    The argument in detail is here, http://www.speakeasy.org/~donaldfr/sfmodel.pdf.

    Also, I wrote a feature article on building the Space Station just before assembly began (http://www.speakeasy.org/~donaldfr/buildss.html), which ended up being published several times. In it, I combined the two halves of my life at the time (my degree is in archaeology) and tried to put the project into an historic perspective. It might be worth recalling the introduction to that article:

    “Building the Space Station represents a unique point in human history. Even as it is finally getting under way, few people — supporters and opponents alike — realize just how big and potentially important the project really is, or how difficult building it will be.

    “Learning to assemble large and complex structures in the microgravity of space is fully comparable to humanity’s invention of large-scale construction in stone. That is believed to have been developed by the Egyptian physician and architect Imhotep, who built the Step Pyramid at Saqqara almost five-thousand years ago.

    “It is no accident that Imhotep is one of the very first names, of a person who was not a king, that survives in history. Once you have learned to build with stone, instead of mud brick, you can construct large and permanent structures outside of the desert, in the wetter climates that dominate Earth’s surface. In building the Space Station, humanity is learning nothing less than how to build large and permanent structures in the microgravity environment that dominates the Universe.”

    Yes, the Space Station could have been done better. Yes, it probably won’t cure cancer or do much that is directly useful to our everyday lives, or even to “science”. But our everyday lives is not what all this is about. What the Space Station is about is learning to live somewhere we don’t live now — live there, not just to observe there. If there is one constant in human history — one thing that makes us different from the other homonids — that is it.

    – Donald

  • Keith Cowing

    Kuperberg: So there is no evidence that the space station will survive if NASA does not have human spaceflight in 2010.

    Says who? Facts please.

    Kuperberg: It will be very difficult for any other spacecraft to participate in this show, especially spacecraft that are not yet built, in some cases not yet even invented.

    This shows how little you understand or know about the ISS program. The first ATV is being now being prepped for flight. HTV is following. Soyuz and Progress continue to operate. This space station is designed equally to be supported by US and Russian systems – as well as European and Japanese systems which used standard interfaces and requirements. Indeed, much of the Russian segment (Service Module) was originally slated to be Mir-2.

    You really need to do some research before posting.

  • First, if you acknowledge that the space station isn’t a useful science laboratory, then Hutchison’s conception of it as the world’s greatest science laboratory is a setback for any national interest. This is one of the biggest problems in Washington, that the politicians just plain don’t understand what they spend money on.

    Second, Imhotep’s pyramid was undoubtedly widely resented as a waste of precious Egyptian resources. In that respect it was like the space station. But the space station is not made of stone, is not as large, and won’t last as long. Another historical analogy is the Spruce Goose, which sits quietly in a museum in Oregon.

    Third, it is not true that Homo sapiens is the first hominid to live hard lives in new places. Homo neanderthalensis did it too. What Homo neanderthalensis did not do was adequately plan for the future. Homo sapiens still has a shot at it.

  • Keith,

    First, I already counted Russian spacecraft as among the ones that can reach the space station now. As for the Japanese and ESA craft, I carefully said difficult, not impossible. You aren’t getting around the fact that none of these other countries actually want the keys to the space station, and that Washington does not want to hand them over either.

    But I agree with you that you know the details of all of this better than I do. Indeed, I have learned a lot from your web sites. I am still entitled to come to different conclusions.

  • “First, if you acknowledge that the space station isn’t a useful science laboratory, then Hutchison’s conception of it as the world’s greatest science laboratory is a setback for any national interest.”

    I might agree with you if you had said “scientific national interest.” When you say “_any_ national interest,” once again, you are confusing the interests of scientists with the interests of all of us. There is significant overlap, but they are not synonymous. If my argument is correct, than the national interest (and the human interest, and ultimately the scientific interest) is best served by building early bases in space, whether they are useful for science or not. (As an aside, I conceded that for the sake of argument: I think you and other scientists are failing to consider the role of serendipity. Unless the entirety of human scientific experience has lead us astray, a scientific lab with scientists in a new physical environment is bound to discover something important and interesting, but unpredictable, just by being there.)

    “But the space station is not made of stone,”

    So? Completely misses the point. The Saqqara pyramid taught us how to build large structures. At the time, stone was necessary to do that. (The popular conception of the pyramids as simple structures is wrong: they are quite complex internally and learning to build them was not an easy exercise; at least one is known to have collapsed during construction. To build a pyramid, you have to avoid any small part of any stone supporting all the weight of the stones above — there can be no sharp points or corners in sole contact with another stone. In the real world, that is quite hard to achieve. The fact that all this was learned in a generation or two — we know that the first stone pyramids were built in rapid succession with a great deal of overlap over a few decades — further reinforces the model.) The Space Station is showing us how to build large structures in microgravity. While an HLLV can in theory let us delay that lesson, it is one that must be learned if we are to live in space.

    What you are missing is that, yes, the pyramid at Saqqara was useless (to us, though maybe the Egyptians thought rather differently). But building it taught humanity skills that were essential in the millennia to follow. The Space Station may or may not prove to be useless, but building it or something like it was essential if we are to have a future in space.

    “is not as large,”

    So? Size isn’t everything, and, given what we’ve achieved before, it’s a pretty damned big step (many argue it was too big). The Space Station needs lots of supplies whatever size it is, and, in this case, that is the more important measure. Also, like any semi-permanent base, it can grow over time. Read those activity reports in Spaceflight — even now, it is being incrementally added to all the time.

    “and won’t last as long.”

    Want to bet? For reasons having to do with human nature, politics, and economics, bases on a new frontier often do not go away even when whatever the reason for their existence does. Look at San Francisco. Or, look at Mir, which lasted far longer than its design span, and would probably be there today were it not for American pressure to sink it. Look at how much effort is being put into keeping the Space Station occupied during the Shuttle stand-down. Sure, it makes no “sense,” but it is human nature. If we didn’t build a new foothold on a new frontier and fight hard to keep it there, we wouldn’t be the species that colonized the largest terrestrial world in Solar System in a few tens of thousands of years.

    “Homo neanderthalensis did it too.”

    Probably true, though that’s not my field. But, that does not change my basic point. Physical exploration appears to be something that human beings are uniquely good at.

    “What Homo neanderthalensis did not do was adequately plan for the future. Homo sapiens still has a shot at it.”

    In that case, we’d better make sure the SS does not become another Spruce Goose. We need to stop screwing around with clockwork spacecraft and start learning how to survive as a spacefaring species — and make sure the existing, already deployed Space Station becomes the first base involved in active trade on the new frontier.

    – Donald

  • Keith Cowing

    Kuperberg: First, I already counted Russian spacecraft as among the ones that can reach the space station now. As for the Japanese and ESA craft, I carefully said difficult, not impossible.

    The first ATV is being readied for launch. HTV is being built as well. Why would this be “difficult”? Both vehicles are going to be launched? You are just setting the goal posts as far a way as you can do so – semantically – and ignoring facts of the matter in the process.

    Kuperberg: You aren’t getting around the fact that none of these other countries actually want the keys to the space station, and that Washington does not want to hand them over either.

    Huh? I beg to differ. Have you read what the Russians have been saying recently? Have you been listening to Griffin’s lukewarm support for ISS as well?

  • Contrary to what I said earlier, I believe Keith is right. The Russians, possibly in concert with the Western Europeans, appear ready to take over management of the Space Station whenever NASA wants to release it to them.

    It probably won’t happen — The US is unlikely to do that and they’d have to get used to doing it without so much US money — but in theory it could.

    – Donald

  • Keith,

    There is a really useful web site called SpaceRef.com (maybe you’ve heard of it) that informs my conclusion that ATV is a difficult project. At the very least, difficult for the people doing it. Some relevant quotes:

    March 22, 2002: This will be a unique opportunity to see the ATV in fully stacked configuration before its launch, currently scheduled for the autumn of 2004.

    April 17, 2003: The first ATV is expected to be launched in September 2004.

    March 30, 2004: Launch on the Ariane 5 from the European Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, is scheduled for 2005.

    February 24, 2005: An identical operation will be performed for real one week before the first ATV launch on top of an Ariane 5 launcher, from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, in 2006.

    That and the fact that the ATV doesn’t even carry astronauts.

    This show is not going to save the space station.

  • I agree that the ATV is overly complex — like the rest of the Space Station — but Keith is right that it will almost certainly fly. I hope you also looked up its payload. It, and the Progress, should be able to keep the Space Station in business until alternative commercial methods are available (after all, we’ve managed to keep it flying with just the Progress.) The ATVs high cost will ensure that Kistler, SpaceX, et al, have a market if they succeed technically and are allowed in politically.

    I wouldn’t bet any money on the Japenese project ever flying, but if it does that would further increase margins.

    Assuming that the Space Shuttle project manages a few more successful missions — and possibly even if it doesn’t — the Space Station is likely to survive logistically. In some ways, because so many nations are involved and have a stake, the Space Station is a pretty resiliant structure.

    – Donald

  • Keith Cowing

    Kuperberg: There is a really useful web site called SpaceRef.com (maybe you’ve heard of it) …

    Uh, yes I have heard of it. I am the co-owner and editor of SpaceRef.com

  • Keith: Yes, that was my point.

  • Keith Cowing

    Greg: clearly you do not understand what you read on my site – or any others when it comes to the ISS.

  • Here is an interesting quote from Joan Johnson-Freese, a political science professor at the Naval War College who follows space issues,
    in response to Bush’s VSE speech:

    I think the overall lesson learned by the Europeans, the Japanese and the Russians so far in this ISS programme is that you can only afford so much US friendship. They probably will be reluctant to get involved in any way that gets them more dependent on the US.

    So you can see that these countries are just thrilled at the idea of running the space station after 2010. Especially France.

  • Keith Cowing

    Greg: Let me get this right: you base your sweeping assertions about foreign government’s positions on the opinion of ONE person? And for that matter, you base your opinion of NASA’s exploration efforts on their views regarding ONE SPEECH?

    How about doing some real research – and find out what these governments have actually SAID – not the words of a U.S. analyst about what she thinks they think.