NASA

Mars or bust?

On his excellent blog, Selenian Boondocks, Jon Goff seems surprised when he finds that the current NASA exploration architecture is really geared towards Mars. That revelation came from a discussion thread on NASA SpaceFlight.com’s forums, where one of the key authors of the ESAS study, Doug Stanley, makes the point that the architecture’s key elements are designed to support human missions to Mars, not just the Moon. (Stanley adds that, in his personal opinion, lunar exploration “will be the ‘tar baby’ we will be stuck with that will keep us from going to Mars in my lifetime.”)

Now is that really such a revelation? Back in August NASA administrator Mike Griffin, speaking at the Mars Society conference in Washington, said that the decision to develop the two different launch vehicles for the Vision, the Ares 1 and 5, were motivated in part by long-terms to go to Mars. In his words, “if I want to go to Mars, and I believe I need something like a million pounds in low Earth orbit to do that, then I want to do that in five or six launches, not 10 or 12.”

In his forum comments, Stanley also says, “If the next administration wishes to re-focus on Mars, all of the building blocks will be there.” True, but if the next administration isn’t fond of Mars exploration, it would be easy for them to terminate the Ares 5 and focus on the Ares 1 and/or other vehicles for Earth orbit or lunar operations.

56 comments to Mars or bust?

  • whocares

    Its the heritage from Ares I to V that gives NASA opportunity for the Moon and Mars regardless of political winds. Nasa designed Ares I to build key components of Ares V, the 5 segment SRB and the J2 engine. Tooling for the cryo tanks can be stored. The RS-68 will be in production for decades. Ares V can be reconstituted if the next admin doesn’t care for VSE, just as long as Ares I is built, as of course it must if we wish to drive ourselves to the ISS. By January 2009, the CLV will be deep into development, cancellation won’t be a cost effective solution.

  • Bill White

    I very much endorse this excerpt from Taylor Dinerman’s piece posted today at Space Review:

    He also understands why going back to the Moon and building a base there is important. In a speech last month at NASA Langley he said, “But one assumption that I know will be justified is that the Moon, the near-Earth asteroids, and the rest of the solar system contain the resources that will take mankind to the next level of civilization and prosperity. I don’t know when it will occur or who will do it but it will happen.” This is a man who “gets it” and, more importantly, can convince others that space exploration is the right thing to do, and that the time to do it is now.

    Should a moonbase be NASA’s job?

    It seems to me that Mike Griffin has been consistent in saying that NASA’s budget is (and will be) insufficient to do everything. Therefore, the private sector must find a way to make money on the Moon without reliance on Uncle Sugar to pay the bills.

    The Moon is the very best medium term space investment opportunity. Perhaps that suggests NASA should stay away, and go to Mars leaving lunar development to the private sector.

    As Griffin said, opening up the Moon will help take humanity to the next level of civilization and prosperity and it sounds like Griffin wouldn’t want NASA to get in the way with an ISS style moonbase.

  • Jeff,
    I wasn’t so much surprised to find Mars requirements driving a lot of the show–as you say they’ve been fairly open about that in the past.

    What surprised me was the fact that Doug openly admitted that even a small outpost would be so expensive to build and maintain using their architecture that it would suck up all of NASA’s exploration budget. The fact that in spite of being told to come up with an architecture to support manned and unmannedexploration of the Moon, Mars, and Beyond, that they selected an architecture that could only support one of them, and almost seemed to be stacking the deck in such a way so that the Moon side of things would get canceled. Blowing $50B just to go back to the moon and do a teenie bit more than Apollo is really pushing one’s political luck. OTOH, they seem to think that if they could claim the $50B was for doing something bigger and newer, they could get away with it.

    Thanks for the link!
    ~Jon

  • Mark R. Whittington

    One thing mentioned by Doug Stanley is not getting the play it deserves. At one point he suggests that both OMB and the Congress know that NASA’s budget is going to have to expand faster than the rate of inflation and have accepted this. Odds are that the Mikulski-Hutchinson Amendment to cover shuttle return to flight costs will pass.

    So much for VSE being unsustainable.

  • Blowing $50B just to go back to the moon and do a teenie bit more than Apollo is really pushing one’s political luck.

    However, it is a hell of a lot better than proposing something the government will not support — a vast increase in space spending — or continuing to waste vast sums trying and failing to develop new-concept launch vehicles, and achieving essentially nothing. I still believe that the basic architecture of the VSE — as opposed to the current details — is the correct way forward at this point in time and with today’s political realities. It’s time to use what we’ve got to create reasons for better space transportation.

    What I think has been missed is this: the government producing an “unsustainable” transportation infrastructure and using it to get a start on a lunar base is not necessarily a bad thing in the long term. Would COTS be happening if the Space Station had not been built with the “unsustaintable” Space Shuttle infrastructure? The existance of a lunar base will encourage — and probably make necessary — a lunar COTS or something similar, and over the long term that should reduce costs.

    No lunar base means no lunar COTS, which means continuing to try to develop launch vehicles without a market to justify them.

    – Donald

  • Bill White

    Direct is definitely an option worth looking at:

    http://www.directlauncher.com/

  • Donald,
    If Lunar COTS were anything more than just a suggestion by a certain alt.space pundit, I might take it more seriously. As it is, the problem with Lunar COTS is that while it will probably do some finite amount of good, it will be after we’ve already thrown $60-70B and 10-15 years down the hole. If Lunar COTS makes sense, it makes sense from the start, not at the end after all the high costs are locked in. Having a serious backup plan that can put pressure on your main plan to actually execute on-time and on-budget is a good idea. Having a main plan that’s so expensive that you barely have enough to execute that, and that makes paying for a backup plan impossible is stupid.

    If Lunar COTS is worth doing, its worth doing at a point when it can actually produce some sort of real benefit. Not after it’s too late to do much good.

    ~Jon

  • Mark R. Whittington

    Jon clearly is unaware of why COTS has a chance to work to start with. The participants in COTS have to find private capital as well as use the money granted them by NASA. In order to do that, they have to present a good business case as to why private money should be invested in a private space ship. Private markets exist for Earth to LEO space craft. They do not yet exist for Earth to Moon space craft. Therefore, it is premature to implement a Lunar COTS program. Once a lunar base is established, then lunar markets will start opening up.

  • Jonathan: If Lunar COTS makes sense, it makes sense from the start, not at the end after all the high costs are locked in.

    Jon, Mark has it right. There is no market now, so a lunar COTS or anything like it has no chance. It only has a chance after a political and economic market has been created, e.g., by a lunar base. Note the way the alt.space orbital efforts got nowhere until NASA got serious about the potential of commercial Space Station supply.

    – Donald

  • Al Fansome

    Jon,

    You have it right.

    The most effective way to do Lunar COTS is to set the objective from Day 1 — that private U.S. industry will own & operate the Earth-Moon transportation system. That means that private industry would be in charge of designing the architecture for getting us to the Moon, and owning/operating the transportation elements.

    Although I love COTS, Don’s argument of COTS for ISS as a justification of closing our eyes to the huge (un)economic costs of ESAS makes no sense. Arguing that the lemonade of COTS justifies buying more lemons … just so we can get a little more lemonade 20 years from now, is irrational. This is a beggars mentality — rather than resigning ourselves to getting more scraps in another 20 years, we should AT LEAST ask for what we really want. We may not get it — but we are guaranteed to not get it if we don’t ask.

    ****FANTASY ON****

    If I was King and Dictator, I would …

    1) invest heavily in developing/proving on-orbit rendezvous technology, and spin it off to industry.

    2) invest heavily in developing/proving on-orbit refueling technology, and all other technology necessary for an orbital fuel depot, and spin it off to industry.

    3) invest heavily in developing & demonstrating lunar ISRU technology, particularly for oxygen generation, which constitutes the majority of the mass needed by chemical rockets.

    4) invest heavily in supporting and encouraging and incentivizing in *commercial* industry development of “Cheap Access to Space” via reusable spaceships (this means both market/demand incentives, tax incentives for private investment, large orbial prizes, and continual new technology investments.)

    5) invest heavily in developing reusable lunar landers that will deliver O2 from the lunar surface to a fuel depot in lunar orbit or one of the Lagrange points.

    6) invest heavily in nuclear electric power systems (for surface activities), nuclear-powered ion engines, and other very high ISP engines (like VASIMIR).

    7) Then, structure a series of acquisitions so that private industry develops and operates all the key transportation services in the Earth Moon system. (This will not happen under Griffin’s approach — the Government will (again) own and maintain all the lunar transportation systems it is currently designing. Nobody will want to privatize the Ares 5 — there will be no economic reason for doing so.)

    Others have done the analysis of the architecture of a Lunar/Lagrange fuel depot, with reusable lunar lander & Earth-to-orbit RLVs. The combination of reusability (Earth to orbit, and Lunar to orbit) plus much cheaper lunar ISRU propellant, has huge economic advantages over what is proposed by Griffin/Horowitz/Stanley. When combined with high ISP engines, the economics are much more compelling, and sending humans to Mars becomes much much easier … both to do, and to sustain.

    Creating a permanent Mars settlement becomes much easier, if it is supported by this much lower cost transportation system. (Yes, it will take us longer to get the first person Mars, but when we go, we will almost certainly go to stay, and we will go in a much larger way. With the Griffin-approach, we are likely to get a repeat of Apollo … which is “flags & footprints.” I suggest we learn from our mistakes … not repeat them.

    The problem is that getting to a system that effectively uses all these technologies is non-trivial — it is not a system that a government agency can easily mandate & control from a top down bureaucratic approach. Why? Because it puts private industry in charge of key aspects of the transportation system — and depends on the success of private industry in its development. This is why Griffin has stated that he hates depending on private industry.

    Carrying out these seven development objectives will be no more expensive — in non-recurring development — than what Griffin/Stanley propose to do. It may be much less expensive — I find it hard to imagine spending over $100 Billion in “development costs” on these 7 objectives, unless it was poorly managed.

    MOST IMPORTANTLY — from an operational “recurring cost” basis, the END RESULT will be a Earth-Moon transportation system that is 1-2 orders of magnitude more cost effective than what Griffin wants us to do. This system will be much more economically sustainable, and will be much more conducive to opening the Earth-Moon system to large-scale economic activity. (The reports are that the each Ares 5/Ares 1 launch to the Moon will cost us something like $2.5 Billion. At two “sorties” per year, that is $5 Billion for sorties, with no permament infrastructure. The size of this commitment will suck up the excess funds that might be used to invest in all the technologies (see above) to make the system much cheaper. The recurring operations costs will kill us.)

    As of this moment, I am not exactly sure which of the seven steps I advocate should come in second and third place — but the number one priority would Cheap Access to Earth Orbit (as much for military requirements, as commercial and civilian requirements). But as King/Dictator, I know I could figure out a very good plan by getting the the right people/companies focused on this, by setting the general direction and the objective, and announcing that this was where we were going, and starting the charge.

    You say you want this, and ask what needs to be done?

    All it takes is a U.S. political leader, with enough imagination. Simple, right?

    ****FANTASY OFF****

    The biggest argument against this approach — which I assume is the reason that Don and Mark are willing to go along with the current flawed ESAS design — is …

    1) Proposing something like this, without the political power to carry it out, would be an excercise in futility. Don Quixote comes to mind.

    2) We don’t have a U.S. leader in place with enough passion for opening the space frontier, with enough knowledge of the space infrastructure issues, and with enough trust of the American people and free enterprise, to make this happen. Such leaders do exist … they *probably* are not electable.

    In the meantime, Don and Mark appear to be willing to accept any space leader who does some of the right things. I can’t say I blame them, since we sometimes get space leaders who do few, if any, of the right things needed to open the space frontier.

    But as free citizens, in a democracy, we have the obligation of at least saying what we really want to happen. I have now done so.

    - Al

  • Of course it’s not a revelation. On the very first page of the Executive summary of the ESAS report is written its purpose, namely to:

    “Define the top-level requirements and configurations for crew and cargo launch systems to support the lunar and Mars exploration programs;”

    How much clearer can it be?

  • Note the way the alt.space orbital efforts got nowhere until NASA got serious about the potential of commercial Space Station supply.

    Elon Musk will be surprised to learn that.

  • Randy: Elon Musk must be even more surprised to hear that he doesn’t need the Space Station or COTS, since he fought so hard for a seat at the table.

    Al: Proposing something like this, without the political power to carry it out, would be an exercise in futility. Don Quixote comes to mind.

    I couldn’t have put it better myself. The problem, Al, is that this is a fantasy, and one the space community has enjoyed for far too long. Decade after decade, nothing much happens, because there is no market. Don’t forget that politicians need a market too. They need 1) a large popular movement that seriously threatens their reelection, and / or 2) an obvious way to make large amounts of money fast for key supporters. Human spaceflight (with the possible exception of suborbital tourism) offers neither of these — at least not yet.

    That means we have to do it the hard way, that is, find a way to do it without much political support or additional money. With the provisos that an expansion of COTS would be good and that there should be even greater use of existing assets, the genius of the current plan is it fulfills those requirements — little political support and additional money — and is therefore the only plan proposed in decades that has a chance. Sure, there are better, more cost-effective, more “sustainable,” ways to do this in the long term, but only if you fulfill your fantasy and propose more money up front. That is not going to happen, especially in the financial environment this Administration has done a lot to create.

    I still believe that the only chance to get a sustainable deep space transportation system is to build a market up front with what we have now. Then, the market justifies the investment in the transportation. Yes, that does take longer, a lot longer. But the Space Station is demonstrating (though, granted, it hasn’t yet) that this strategy can work over time.

    You can make lemonade out of lemons. But, it’s time for the space community to grow up and stop pretending that you can make lemonade out of nothing, just by fantasizing it into existence.

    – Donald

  • al Fansome

    Randy: Elon Musk must be even more surprised to hear that he doesn’t need the Space Station or COTS, since he fought so hard for a seat at the table.

    Another person who would be surprised, by the suggestion that he has gotten nowhere until COTS, is Jeff Bezos.

    Al: Proposing something like this, without the political power to carry it out, would be an exercise in futility. Don Quixote comes to mind.

    I couldn’t have put it better myself. The problem, Al, is that this is a fantasy, and one the space community has enjoyed for far too long.

    I certainly have not enjoyed the fantasy.

    I also don’t enjoy nightmares either.

    An unsustainable and unaffordable system that everybody agrees is too expensive — yet we don’t do anything to stop it — might be one definition of a night mare.

    Decade after decade, nothing much happens, because there is no market. Don’t forget that politicians need a market too. They need 1) a large popular movement that seriously threatens their reelection, and / or 2) an obvious way to make large amounts of money fast for key supporters. Human spaceflight (with the possible exception of suborbital tourism) offers neither of these — at least not yet.

    Don, I agree with this.

    I will note that what I proposed as “fantasy” is a little bit tongue in cheek.

    Parts of the plan I proposed were eminently practical, and based on pragmatic politics.

    It was possible that O’Keefe might have taken the route I suggested.

    Every dollar of “new technology development” that I proposed would be spent here on Earth. The companies (and NASA civil servants) doing the work would get the support of their politicians.

    Also, I did propose one task that constitutes a major market for politicians with large political consituency. There are major national security benefits if this nation develops reusable spaceplanes; and it there is a lot of power in making a national security argument in support of dual use technology development program.

    Congress is already on record agreeing with the value of reusable spaceplanes. I recommend reading:
    http://www.house.gov/science/space/oct11/space_charter_101101.htm

    That means we have to do it the hard way, that is, find a way to do it without much political support or additional money.

    I would rather do it the “smart way”, than the hard way — which is why I spend time attempting to figure out how to generate political support for doing the right thing. Which is one of the reasons I take time to post ideas here.

    With the provisos that an expansion of COTS would be good and that there should be even greater use of existing assets, the genius of the current plan is it fulfills those requirements — little political support and additional money — and is therefore the only plan proposed in decades that has a chance.

    Don, I agree with many things you say but I disagree with this. There are many possible plans that could be proposed, that with the support of a strong NASA administrator, would have a chance.

    In fact, what I suggested has some significant advantages over what Griffin has proposed. Specifically, tying the VSE directly to near-term national security pay-offs in the form of reusable spaceplanes. The White House policy is begging NASA to do this in a way that helps national security … and has repeatedly stated that it supports “Operationally Responsive Space” … but Griffin has ignored the WH (and DoD’s) requests that he proceed in a manner that helps national security. He has not even done the easy thing — Instead of using the EELVs, he has decided to finance development of two brand new LVs, for which NASA is the only customer.

    Sure, there are better, more cost-effective, more “sustainable,” ways to do this in the long term, but only if you fulfill your fantasy and propose more money up front.

    Actually, what I suggest does not need more money up front. You use the same people — who you are currently directing to design the Ares 1 and Ares 5 — and ask them to develop/prove the new technologies I outlined.

    I was actually hoping that you would jump in and say “What you suggest is not really fantasy”. I guess I was a little too subtle for my own good.

    That is not going to happen, especially in the financial environment this Administration has done a lot to create.

    Ouch! ;-)

    FWIW, I think you are too kind. From my perspective, this Administration has done more than “a lot” to create the financial problems. They have done it ALL. Since the Republicans were in control of the WH, and both Houses of Congress, during a period when they went from “no deficit” to the largest deficit in world history … they have nobody they can share the blame with.

    And before somebody jumps in, and blames the war, or the short recession, let me remind you that Bush II has overseen the largest growth in domestic discretionary spending since at least Lyndon Johnson.

    I still believe that the only chance to get a sustainable deep space transportation system is to build a market up front with what we have now. Then, the market justifies the investment in the transportation. Yes, that does take longer, a lot longer. But the Space Station is demonstrating (though, granted, it hasn’t yet) that this strategy can work over time.

    While I agree that markets and demand are critical, there are two economic approaches to generating economic activity. One is demand side. One is supply side. You can employ a supply-side strategy if there is latent long-term demand, which is tapped into by the supply-side strategy. So, we can do BOTH.

    Limiting ourselves to one strategic approach is tying one hand behind our backs.

    You can make lemonade out of lemons. But, it’s time for the space community to grow up and stop pretending that you can make lemonade out of nothing, just by fantasizing it into existence.

    I agree with that too, Donald.

    Actions speak louder than words … and results count more than actions … and many in the space community don’t appear to understand the diference.

    I think that some of specific things that I proposed are quite “actionable”.

    - Al

  • First of all, Al, it’s great to have a mutually respectful discussion that actually addresses our respective points.

    I agree that we agree on a lot — unfortunately, where we disagree is the fundamental strategy going forward.

    Al: There are major national security benefits if this nation develops reusable spaceplanes

    That is exactly what we have been doing ever since Apollo, to no measurable benefit to our mutual goals. Again, I believe that is putting the cart before the horse. The problem with supply side here is that there is no provable latent long-term market that any investment advisor would be willing to invest grandma’s savings on. Until you have that, you’re limited to what the government (or high net worth individuals motivated by non-monetary concerns) can pay. Either of those is a far smaller amount of money than grandma’s savings.

    Using the same people now developing the hardware to go back to the moon — and establish the market we need — to develop expensive exotic technology instead means we end up with expensive technology (which often doesn’t work) and no market. Outside of the Space Station, that’s exactly what we’ve been doing and it’s gotten us nowhere.

    For example,

    tying the VSE directly to near-term national security pay-offs in the form of reusable spaceplanes

    was the Space Shuttle strategy. Did it work? Well, we did get a Shuttle of sorts, and we did use it to build the Space Station — the first large “market” in orbit — but it would have been far more efficient to use early Atlas or Titan vehicles to assemble a rudimentary space station (or the Saturns to deploy a large one) and use that as the market to justify a real space shuttle.

    Finally, and more importantly, developing a new government reusable shuttle is already yesterday’s strategy. Since there is now a market, private enterprise is doing it for us — Kistler’s entirely reusable vehicle. Yes, it’s not a “plane,” but it’s exactly what we need to provide second generation routine access to orbit. Why would you want NASA to waste tax money duplicating that?

    If the Space Station remains a market (and especially if you add a lunar base to it), and if Kistler succeeds (and it has at least as good a chance as hair-brained, overly ambitious government boondoggles like NASP and X-33), then we’ll have both a market and a successful company supplying it. Then, grandma’s money will be prepared to finance third-generation vehicles.

    Keep government money establishing markets at the far frontier (Space Station, lunar base, asteroid mining operations, Martian moon expeditions), and let the entrepreneurs supply them. It’s what’s worked in the past and there is no reason it shouldn’t work now.

    – Donald

  • Randy

    There is no “y” in my name. I’m not sure why you address me in the diminutive, “Donny,” but I don’t appreciate it.

    Elon Musk must be even more surprised to hear that he doesn’t need the Space Station or COTS, since he fought so hard for a seat at the table.

    There was no COTS when he started his company, and no obvious prospects for ISS as a market. He has never made either a condition for continuing to invest and develop his vehicles. COTS is an enhancer of his business plan, not an enabler.

  • “There are major national security benefits if this nation develops reusable spaceplanes.”

    That is exactly what we have been doing ever since Apollo, to no measurable benefit to our mutual goals.

    Do you really type this nonsense with a straight face? We’ve developed exactly one, and it wasn’t even fully reusable. The notion that the Shuttle proves that we can’t do reusables, or that we’ve developing spaceplanes and nothing else is a ludicrous and illogical one.

  • Ferris Valyn

    There are a few issues that I think have to be addressed here
    1 – Everyone who is talking up Lunar Cots – we have YET to do any serious funding of Aries V, let alone fund a moonbase. And I am not convinced that there is the policial will for a moonbase, or even for the landings. And this is a real concern. In a very short time, Griffin will probably be gone (for those who think he’ll be retained by the next administration, seriously, don’t hold your breath – this was discussed somewhat in Jon’s comments section), certainly this administration. I know there has been this push to trying and make it such that it can’t be cancelled once someone new comes in, but the time allowed wasn’t enough. Had it been started in 2000, or 2001, it might have worked. Anyway, the point is, until I see real funding for a moonbase – Lunar Cots is wishful thinking
    2 – Even assuming a moonbase does come, ESAS is NOT optimised to take advantage of the emergance of a a lunar earth market. The clearist example of this is the CLV – the ONE area where they could have taken advantage of market based economics, and they didn’t. And if they didn’t take advantage of it there, what proof is there they will do so in the future?
    3 – Could ESAS have been done in a way to really optimize the development of an earth moon market? Absolutely – many of these have been discussed many places. I don’t feel the need to rehash this
    4 – Finally, could an ESAS optimized for the development of an earth moon market create a base quicker? I am not certain, but I’d be willing to try it.

    Anyway, just my quick thoughts

  • Rand, my sincere appologies, that was a typo.

    As to the substance of your comment, I was referring to all the money we’ve spent failing to develop a second generation Shuttle, which, for all practical purposes has been a waste. (Not quite, since the technology is finding its way into other projects, but as far as creating usable vehicles for near-term use, it’s gone nowhere.) It is hardly “nonesense” to argue that continuing to spend our limited resources that way is not productive. NASA does not have the money to create both a new technology launcher and a destination for it to go to, so we do have to choose. Since private companies (e.g., Mr. Musk) are developing new technology launchers, it is hardly nonesense to argue that NASA should spend its limited resources on creating places and markets for them to serve.

    Mr. Musk has limited resources and may well run out before he’s done. As his costs have continued to rise, he clearly needs the Space Station as a market, whatever his original plan.

    Ferris, it is true that ESAS is not designed to lead to sustained support of a lunar base — that should be the job of private companies once the base is established. Technically, ESAS is not even designed to start a base — it’s optimized for long-term stays, from weeks to months. However, once you are doing the latter, Dr. Griffin has stated that he intends for that to evolve over time into a base.

    I’ve addressed the problem of Dr. Griffin’s probable limited tenor before. I think the lack of clear alternatives is likely to ensure that some variation of ESAS stays in business. Congress is not going to authorize a complete withdrawal from human spaceflight — not with China, and now India, entering the business. Continuing the Space Shuttle program is a clear dead-end (though I would not be surprised to see it live a little longer than 2010). ESAS has the potential to provide clear, relatively near-term, measurable results — something the various post-Shuttle spaceplane projects of the past have not come close to achieving. Looked at from the point of view of a non-technical politician who has an VSE-related plant in their back yard, shutting that down to start yet another reusable spaceplane project in somebody else’s district will be a non-starter. There does seem to be a political consensus that we should return to Earth’s moon — and any alternative to the VSE (as opposed to the specifics of ESAS) is going to cost more to achieve that.

    While I have a number of problems with the specifics of Dr. Griffin’s design, I think he has done a masterful job of making the project politically “sustainable,” if less economically sustainable than one would wish.

    – Donald

  • Paul Dietz

    The problem is not just that NASA can’t create a second generation shuttle system, the problem is that NASA can’t seem to create any manned space program that makes sense. The effort to go to Mars on expendable rockets is as ridiculous as their efforts toward Shuttle Mk. 2 have been.

    It’s not at all surprising that NASA management has been secretive and deceptive about where ESAS is going. Honesty and preserving the field in which they’ve staked their careers are mutually exclusive options.

  • And just why is sending humans to Mars with expendable rockets “rediculous”? Risky, yes, maybe even stupid, but as improbable as implied by your wording?

    This strikes me as a rather broad statement, and, sooner or later, likely to be proven wrong. Your statement also begs the question, what human space program do you think makes sense, especially since you’ve eliminated both expendable rockets and shuttles?

    – Donald

  • Paul Dietz

    And just why is sending humans to Mars with expendable rockets “rediculous”? Risky, yes, maybe even stupid, but as improbable as implied by your wording?

    Because, like NASA’s efforts at Shuttle 2, it achieves no end worth the cost. As such, it is worthy of ridicule, that is, ‘ridiculous’ (spell it correctly when supposedly quoting me, please).

    This strikes me as a rather broad statement, and, sooner or later, likely to be proven wrong.

    Really? Please justify this. Note that actually going to Mars using expendables will not show that the effort wasn’t ridiculous.

    Your statement also begs the question, what human space program do you think makes sense,

    Those that return value to society at least commensurate with the cost (as adjusted to account for the time value of money). If you guys can’t come up with any that actually do that, don’t blame me — I’m not the one asking for the gigabucks.

  • I was referring to all the money we’ve spent failing to develop a second generation Shuttle, which, for all practical purposes has been a waste.

    That hardly constitutes “exactly what we’ve been doing since Apollo.” NASA has wasted much money, yes, but that speaks more to the way that NASA does things than any intrinsic ability to develop reusable vehicles. The nation has also spent a lot of money on expendables (an investment that NASA completely ignores).

  • Ah, Doug, but I believe you are asking for a few less gigabucks, but gigabucks nonetheless, to send robots to Mars. What “return value to society at least commensurate with the cost” of many billions of dollars (when all is said and done) do repeated orbital missions to Mars achieve? Wouldn’t those gigabucks be better spent, say, learning more about cancer, which does have a direct impact on large numbers of people (including, in the past, myself)?

    The problem here is that you define the half of NASA’s budget spent on your toys as worth the money, while defining the half spent on someone elses toys a waste.

    Automated spaceflight does some things more cost effectively than human spaceflight, but the latter will do other things (understanding any life on Mars) far more “cost effectively” than robotic spaceflight (since the latter cannot do that at all). In the end, the value to society of automated missions to Mars, and developing the skills and tools to send humans to Mars, are in essence similar, and you cannot call one of uncommensurate value without defining the other likewise.

    Outside of applications and communications satellites, space exploration by itself and at the current time is an optional endeavor with little direct economic or social benefit, at least in the very short term. If you believe that it has no further potential, it doesn’t matter whether you are talking about human or automated space exploration — both can easily be defined as a complete waste of money. By doing so for one, you are only handing the enemies of all spaceflight ammunition that will come back to bite you.

    – Donald

  • Yes, Rand, but the expendables work. That’s why we should use them to establish the markets that will justify developing new generations of vehicles.

    – Donald

  • al Fansome

    DONALD: First of all, Al, it’s great to have a mutually respectful discussion that actually addresses our respective points.

    Since I respect your opinion, and the respect that you show to others, it is not that hard for me to return the same.

    *************
    Al: There are major national security benefits if this nation develops reusable spaceplanes

    DONALD: That is exactly what we have been doing ever since Apollo, to no measurable benefit to our mutual goals. Again, I believe that is putting the cart before the horse. The problem with supply side here is that there is no provable latent long-term market that any investment advisor would be willing to invest grandma’s savings on. Until you have that, you’re limited to what the government (or high net worth individuals motivated by non-monetary concerns) can pay. Either of those is a far smaller amount of money than grandma’s savings.

    You have already stated your strong public support for “supply side” actions … you just have not realized it. COTS is a SUPPLY-SIDE program.

    NASA is acting in the role of an investor, and giving SpaceX and RpK U.S. government investments to match the private investments raised by those 2 companies. NASA is SUPPLYING those two companies with the equivalent of investment capital, which is creating a direct reduction in the amount of investment capital that those two companies need to bring in from private sources. Don’t believe me?

    NASA even acknowledges this — with just a little bit of searching, you will find statements by NASA officials stating that they are approaching COTS as an investor.

    NASA could have done COTS in a “market pull/demand” approach by signing Firm-Fixed-Price service contracts for SERVICES. This is how the US Government acted to encourage development of the airlines under the Kelly Act.

    However, NASA chose not to go the “service purchase contract” route, and deferred the competition for services to a later date.

    *************
    AL:“tying the VSE directly to near-term national security pay-offs in the form of reusable spaceplanes”

    DONALD: was the Space Shuttle strategy. Did it work?
    To be clear, this nation has truly tried to develop a spaceplane in the manner that I am suggesting.

    This nation came to dominate the airways because the government worked in *partnership* with U.S. private industry. The government focused the lion’s share of its efforts on broad measures that helped all industry, and many dozens of companies. This was a true industrial strategy. Some of the actions in the early 20th century include:

    1) Creation of NACA — which focused on research on new technologies which was broadly shared with industry; and acted to end a destructive industry patent fight.

    2) Purchasing airmail services

    3) Industry insurance reform

    Instead of following this proven successful model for industrial development, which maximizes innovation and competition, in the 1970s the US government decided to design, build, own and operate a “National Space Transportation System”.

    *************
    DONALD: Finally, and more importantly, developing a new government reusable shuttle is already yesterday’s strategy. Since there is now a market, private enterprise is doing it for us — Kistler’s entirely reusable vehicle. Yes, it’s not a “plane,” but it’s exactly what we need to provide second generation routine access to orbit. Why would you want NASA to waste tax money duplicating that?

    We already have US tax payer dollars supporting Kistler (and SpaceX). I am suggesting that we do a lot more of that.

    There is a lot more that can be done to support a healthy commercial space industry. Prizes (demand side), service purchases (demand side), tax holidays (demand side), tax credits (supply-side), x-vehicles (supply side), and research on breakthrough pre-competitive technologies (supply-side), are all actionable, and quite doable. We have already used these tools before in other situations.

    All that is needed is a national leader who trusts U.S. industry, and the power of American free enterprise to lead the way (in a partnership with US government), just like we did with the creation of the aircraft industry in the last Century.

    BTW, I use the word “spaceplane” only because I hate the term “reusable launch vehicle”. I don’t mean to infer wings … the term is only inferring plane-like characteristics.

    *************
    DONALD: As to the substance of your comment, I was referring to all the money we’ve spent failing to develop a second generation Shuttle, which, for all practical purposes has been a waste. (Not quite, since the technology is finding its way into other projects, but as far as creating usable vehicles for near-term use, it’s gone nowhere.)

    I agree with you that X-33 was a failure, and that much of the funding was wasted. I am betting that Rand agrees too. But this is more of a failure of how the program was structured, the criteria for choosing the winner, and the fact that only one winner was chosen.

    *************
    DONALD: It is hardly “nonesense” to argue that continuing to spend our limited resources that way is not productive. NASA does not have the money to create both a new technology launcher and a destination for it to go to, so we do have to choose.

    I agree that there is limited resources at NASA, and that NASA had to choose. There is no debate on that point.

    Let me reiterate my original point — you stated that NASA had only one alternative. I responded by saying that your assertion was incorrect, and that there were other good alternatives that COULD have been chosen. To back this up, I then stated backed up my point with a specific alternative that would have a good chance of political success (e.g., be sustainable), and which would be at least an order of lower in cost (e.g., be affordable) than the Griffin plan.

    *************
    DONALD: I’ve addressed the problem of Dr. Griffin’s probable limited tenor before. I think the lack of clear alternatives is likely to ensure that some variation of ESAS stays in business. Congress is not going to authorize a complete withdrawal from human spaceflight — not with China, and now India, entering the business.

    A much more aggressive NASA program to develop a commercial reusable spaceplane industry would directly respond to Congress’ desire to make sure that the United States had a human spaceflight program. Many believe that this is both politically more salable (partly because of the national security benefits), and that it would be much more effective in the end at opening the frontier in a cost effective manner.

    Griffin made his choice.

    But that is his choice. The American people (and the next President) still gets to make theirs.

    – Al

  • Ferris Valyn

    Ferris, it is true that ESAS is not designed to lead to sustained support of a lunar base — that should be the job of private companies once the base is established. Technically, ESAS is not even designed to start a base — it’s optimized for long-term stays, from weeks to months. However, once you are doing the latter, Dr. Griffin has stated that he intends for that to evolve over time into a base.

    Donald, I didn’t say support – I said its not optimized to take advantage of a developing lunar earth market – not support – the 2 are different. Very different.

    I’ve addressed the problem of Dr. Griffin’s probable limited tenor before. I think the lack of clear alternatives is likely to ensure that some variation of ESAS stays in business. Congress is not going to authorize a complete withdrawal from human spaceflight — not with China, and now India, entering the business. Continuing the Space Shuttle program is a clear dead-end (though I would not be surprised to see it live a little longer than 2010). ESAS has the potential to provide clear, relatively near-term, measurable results — something the various post-Shuttle spaceplane projects of the past have not come close to achieving. Looked at from the point of view of a non-technical politician who has an VSE-related plant in their back yard, shutting that down to start yet another reusable spaceplane project in somebody else’s district will be a non-starter. There does seem to be a political consensus that we should return to Earth’s moon — and any alternative to the VSE (as opposed to the specifics of ESAS) is going to cost more to achieve that. Yea, America will most likely stay in space. And yea, the odds are good that CEV will prolly fly, along with something to launch it will fly (whether its CLV or something else I think is open for debate). But I am not at all conivnced that there is political consensus for returning to the moon. THus, the easy, and what I think likely, thing that can be done is that that Ares V will be canceled, as well as the lander, and we’ll use CEV to go into orbit, work on the station, thus doing a repeat of the shuttle. If we had a lander, or Ares V before the end of Griffin’s tenure, I think you might have a case – but as is, we don’t, odds are we won’t, and thus we can end up with another shuttle situation.

  • Al, I agree with your analysis and semi-correction of my argument about COTS, as far as it goes. The point is, NASA probably would not have accepted the COTS idea, and Congress almost certainly would not have approved it, without the Space Station supply requirement (read “market”) and our current dependence on foreign suppliers to fulfill that requirement.

    I agree with you about the importance of mail delivery, however that demanded a pre-existing destination and market. You weren’t delivering mail into the empty desert (aka empty space), you were delivering it to pre-existing facilities (aka the Space Station or lunar expeditions). Additionally, you, like most people who use the aircraft model, missed one key 20th Century event: World War II and the related cost-no-object government R&D efforts. These sped the development of large airframes and jet engines that could later be adapted to passenger use. Without those government projects, development of 727s would almost certainly have taken much longer. In my model, the VSE (fortunately) takes the place of WW-II. Since cost-no-object is not in the books, the VSE is what we get, rather than the “dream” route. Also, the space frontier is a lot harder than air commerce. In the latter case, the destinations already existed. We have to create our destinations. The global spread of humanity over Earth’s oceans, via steadily improving seafaring skills, is a better model. However, note that it took humanity almost 10,000 years of hard work and countless lost lives to achieve that. There is no reason to expect colonizing the multiple and mutually alien worlds of the Solar System to be any easier than colonizing what was, after all, our own world.

    Prizes (demand side), service purchases (demand side), tax holidays (demand side),

    The problem is that these “demands” in turn depend on a real demand. None of these would have happened, or are likely to happen, respectfully, without the demand of Space Station supply. The same will be true of a “lunar COTS.” You still need a destination first.

    Regarding other alternatives, look at it from the point of an outsider politician. NASA has spent thirty years screwing around with new launch plans, without once following through on any of them. Even the VSE has already been re-planned once (a mistake, I believe, but now its water under the bridge). With a new party in Congress and the nation facing unprecedented budgetary problems, yet another plan is the last thing we need. We need results, even if they aren’t “sustainable.” Land some crews on the moon and do some detailed exploration and experimental resource recovery, and, especially if you haven’t sold that as the end of the road, you can come back and argue for a second generation system with some chance of political success. You can say, “Gee, this ‘stick,’ while it may work, is hardly ideal for a sustainable lunar project. We can’t keep risking our American boys this way. The lunar exploration effort needs something better.” Then you can evolve second and third generation systems (or third and fourth generation, if you count Apollo). But it’s all dependent on results. Here and now, starting from scratch, especially if you go for something requiring more R&D than ESAS, won’t produce near term results. You won’t have a “market” for the politicians. You’ll just have another play pen technology like NASP and the X-33, and you probably won’t even have that because somebody will say, hey, this too is the wrong strategy so lets plan it again. . . .

    We’ve planned enough. We have a plan, however imperfect. Now is the time to execute, and try to implement incremental, small changes to the plan to make it more useful to our goals, e.g., by putting more money into additional COTS competitors and going back to LOX engines on the lander second stage.

    – Donald

  • Ferris: I said its not optimized to take advantage of a developing lunar earth market

    But that’s not the purpose of the VSE in my model. The goal of the VSE should be to get something on the moon to serve as a rudimentary market. Optimized vehicles are the job of a future COTS.

    thing that can be done is that that Ares V will be canceled, as well as the lander, and we’ll use CEV to go into orbit, work on the station, thus doing a repeat of the shuttle

    That may well happen, though I think there’s a reasonable chance that it won’t. However, canceling the Ares-V ourselves in order to pursue dream vehicles or a dream plan creates the same result. Let’s let someone else kill us before committing suicide ourselves!

    Besides, if Orion is successfully developed, we can live without the Ares-V. The latter’s payload — mostly fuel — could be split among multiple smaller payloads launched by, say, SpaceX or Kistler or one of the EELVs or Ariane-V. We can live without Ares-V if we have to but we need Orion or something comparable.

    – Donald

  • Yes, Rand, but the expendables work.

    Oh. I guess that explains why NASA is ignoring them.

    That’s why we should use them to establish the markets that will justify developing new generations of vehicles.

    That’s like saying we will justify building the Golden Gate bridge by counting the number of swimmers between San Francisco and Marin County.

  • No, it’s like saying we will justify the Golden Gate Bridge by building San Francisco first. What you’re arguing for is building the bridge before San Francisco exists to justify it. Good luck.

    – Donald

  • Ferris Valyn

    But that’s not the purpose of the VSE in my model. The goal of the VSE should be to get something on the moon to serve as a rudimentary market. Optimized vehicles are the job of a future COTS.
    Your mixing hardware and programs. And, yes, you can’t talk about one without talking about the other, but your so focused on the tech, that its at the expense of the the overal aspects of the program. So, as I said, we need the program to be optimized to take advantage of a developing lunar earth market.

    That may well happen, though I think there’s a reasonable chance that it won’t. However, canceling the Ares-V ourselves in order to pursue dream vehicles or a dream plan creates the same result. Let’s let someone else kill us before committing suicide ourselves!

    I think its lower than a reasonable chance. And at this point, I haven’t said that Ares V should be canceled.

    Besides, if Orion is successfully developed, we can live without the Ares-V. The latter’s payload — mostly fuel — could be split among multiple smaller payloads launched by, say, SpaceX or Kistler or one of the EELVs or Ariane-V. We can live without Ares-V if we have to but we need Orion or something comparable.

    Except that, because of the way the program is planned, you can’t separate the various parts, at least, not easily. If VSE had less tight intergration, we could do this, but with the tight integration, its not an option.

  • Bill White

    If I were Mike Griffin what I would most want for Christmas is for the Atlas program to despair of CEV funding and cut a deal with Bigelow for an inexpensive crew-rated booster to LEO. THEN, once the Bigelow-Atlas deal is cut, I’d buy them for NASA by the dozens. Then NASA buys as many man-rated Atlas Vs that can roll off the assembly lines (saving some for Bigelow) paying whatever best price Robert Bigelow can extract.

    If NASA chooses Atlas V for CEV first then there is no way Lockheed sells Atlas V at a price point Bigelow is happy with.

  • Bill White

    A worthy goal:

    A much more aggressive NASA program to develop a commercial reusable spaceplane industry would directly respond to Congress’ desire to make sure that the United States had a human spaceflight program. Many believe that this is both politically more salable (partly because of the national security benefits), and that it would be much more effective in the end at opening the frontier in a cost effective manner.

    In my opinion, the most effective way to motivate the private sector to build honest-to-God spaceplanes would be for the US Congress to pay for placing a number of Bigelow hotels in LEO.

    Congress will buy the launchers and frankly I do not care which launcher — that is irrelevant — just whatever it takes to get a Bigelow habitat up there. Then RpK, SpaceX and Atlas V can all man-rate their vehicles on their own dime and fly tourists to the destination.

    Spaceplanes will develop naturally thereafter from competition.

    = = =

    The alternative? Have a Congressional sub-committee decide which spaceplane idea seems most promising? That is an invitation for “Let the best lobbyists win”

    The Bigelow launch initiative should be 100% independent of NASA’s budget. Simply appropriate $1 billion dollars to buy Bigelow some free Earth-to-LEO lift once he can assure Congress that his space hotel would actually work.

  • Al Fansome

    BILL WHITE: If I were Mike Griffin what I would most want for Christmas is for the Atlas program to despair of CEV funding and cut a deal with Bigelow for an inexpensive crew-rated booster to LEO. THEN, once the Bigelow-Atlas deal is cut, I’d buy them for NASA by the dozens. Then NASA buys as many man-rated Atlas Vs that can roll off the assembly lines (saving some for Bigelow) paying whatever best price Robert Bigelow can extract.

    Bill,

    You are missing a major part of Griffin’s point of view, and strategy. The only reason that Griffin is doing the Ares 1 on the stick is because this eliminates a large amount of the development cost of the Ares 5.

    Griffin is not looking for a better price on the Atlas V — saving a few bucks for the program 15 years down the road is not Griffin’s objective. Going to Mars is. In fact, Griffin is probably quite upset with LM’s poorly disguised marketing effort of the Atlas V as a replacement for the stick. Griffin really does believe he needs a super-heavy-lift LV to go to Mars, and he is worried that LM, Boeing (or ULA) will kill off the stick (and thus Ares 5) after he leaves NASA.

    Griffin is certainly not going to kill the stick before he leaves.
    - Al

  • Al Fansome

    AL: Prizes (demand side), service purchases (demand side), tax holidays (demand side),

    DONALD: The problem is that these “demands” in turn depend on a real demand. None of these would have happened, or are likely to happen, respectfully, without the demand of Space Station supply. The same will be true of a “lunar COTS.” You still need a destination first.

    Donald,

    You are missing a point. Many in the industry believe that large commercial markets exist for reusable space planes — the problem is that these markets are not proven.

    Airmail service contracts were signed as a demand-side stimulus to jump start the creation of airlines across the nation. The people in the industry believed that passenger travel was the big market … but they could not prove it to investors. Instead, the US government signed airmail contracts with MANY companies. The companies then used the existing contracts to get financing to buy airplanes, and to begin delivery. Within a few years after beginning service, the passenger travel market grew well beyond the size of the airmail market.

    We are in the same position now with respect to LEO. LEO is a destination. It does not need a space station to be a destination. It would be quite useful to “jump start” many competitors, as we did with airmail.

    After we achieve Cheap Access to LEO, it will be quite easy to send people and payloads around the Moon. (In parallel, with CATS, Bigelow is doing great business in his LEO hotel.) Going around the Moon is a “destination”. I personally would love to take a trip around the Moon.

    Once you can swing around the Moon, it will be quite easy to stop by the Bigelow hotel in lunar orbit. At this point, once we can reliabily put stuff in lunar orbit, and aggregate and build things there, it is relatively straight step forward to land on the Moon.

    Call this spiral development if you like. Call it “organic growth” of free enterprise if you like.

    BTW, the implication of your statement above is that NASA does not have a “real demand” to get to the Moon.

    NASA could decide to “pay commercial companies to land people and things” on the Moon … as a space transportation service. NASA could decide to pay private industry to establish the lunar (or L1) hotel. NASA could pay some commercial firm to build the fuel depot (first in LEO and then in lunar orbit or L1).

    It is not magic. We just need a critical mass of people that are willing to think different.

    If you are saying that NASA needs to completely fail again, before this happens … well you may be right.

    At some point, I hope that we as a nation will be smart enough to figure out what will happen, before we do the same thing over again, and get the same results. If and when enough of us do become smart enough to learn from history, there still will be people saying “It can’t be done … because NASA won’t go along with this … and won’t let it happen that way.”

    I guess I am most set off by the finality — the absoluteness — of your statements to the effect “it can’t happen that way” … that there is only one alternative. That is a little too cynical for me. There are other alternatives. They may be unlikely, but they are still possible.

    - Al

  • Bill White

    Al, of course Griffin wants Mars. That is a well known quantity.

    That said, an Atlas V man-rated at Lockheed’s expense helps Griffin free up money otherwise needed for ISS support and lunar missions so he can do Mars.

    Leverage the private sector to open up the Moon and we can have both — Moon and Mars.

  • No, it’s like saying we will justify the Golden Gate Bridge by building San Francisco first.

    We are not going to build anything in space resembling San Francisco with expendables. But in this analogy, earth is San Francisco, and the moon is Marin County. We won’t build Sausalito with expendables, either.

  • Paul Dietz

    Ah, Doug, but I believe you are asking for a few less gigabucks, but gigabucks nonetheless, to send robots to Mars. What “return value to society at least commensurate with the cost” of many billions of dollars (when all is said and done) do repeated orbital missions to Mars achieve? Wouldn’t those gigabucks be better spent, say, learning more about cancer, which does have a direct impact on large numbers of people (including, in the past, myself)?

    Are you calling me ‘Doug’, Don? (Was there even a Doug anywhere in this message and comments, aside from that NASA guy Jon was commenting on?) I’m not asking for anything for sending unmanned spacecraft to Mars. The question of whether spending billions for unmanned exploration of the planets is also a good one. That effort too should have to be justified on cost/benefit basis.

    You are quite right about cancer (and human biology in general). I’ve gently encouraged my kids to focus more on biologically (including neuroscience) oriented careers rather than traditional hardware engineering careers — I think this is where the big advances and opportunities are coming.

    The problem here is that you define the half of NASA’s budget spent on your toys as worth the money, while defining the half spent on someone elses toys a waste.

    You are definitely confusing me with someone else, Don. NASA has no toys of mine, manned or unmanned. The unmanned stuff may very well be a waste also. Those probes are dreadfully expensive by the standards of earthbound science.

  • Al, sorry I sound so absolute. Of course I recognize there are other alternatives; I am arguing for the one I consider most likely because it can happen without significant funding increases or political support. Most of the other alternatives require one or both of those, and those are what I consider extremely unlikely in the near future.

    While I agree with most of your statements individually, I fundamentally disagree with your (and Rand’s and many other space advocate’s) conclusions.

    We are in the same position now with respect to LEO.

    We are not anywhere near the same position as the aircraft and rudimentary airline industry was after World War I. The position we are in is much more similar to the early establishment the first neolithic village over five thousand years ago in (ironically) what is now Iraq. Most of the rest of the world is empty of markets. Our job is to figure out how to make a first base just outside of that one town reproduce and start the rudiments of trade.

    Rand talks of the Golden Gate bridge but draws the wrong lesson. Before the GG bridge could be even thought about, the Spanish Presidio was built using the transportation systems that existed at the time. Nothing new was developed, or could be developed, until somebody was there to desire or need it. Once colonies were created using the then-equivalent of expendable rockets, then and only then were better commercial sailing ships developed from the military vessels of the day, and ultimately the bridge.

    What the space community is trying to do amounts to building container ships and their supporting cranes right off the bat with no reason for their existance. While a sufficiently large government project just might make that possible, it is not something we should bet our future in space on.

    Sure, building GG bridges and container ships is fun for engineers, but we’re way too early for that. First, we have to do the hard but boreing work of using existing vehicles to create the market that will create fun projects for your children.

    I know that nobody wants to hear that, but that really is where I think we’re at. Pretending otherwise — living in a probable fantasy — only makes that spacefaring future for our children less likely.

    – Donald

  • Sorry, Paul, I’ve got jet lag and it’s obviously affecting me. That said, I’m glad we agree that either both human and automated spaceflight are a waste of scarce scientific resources, or both are not.

    – Donald

  • Paul Dietz

    That said, I’m glad we agree that either both human and automated spaceflight are a waste of scarce scientific resources, or both are not.

    Don’t put words in my mouth Don, I didn’t say that.

    I did say that unmanned science would have to be justified on a cost/benefit basis, and that it was very expensive; I did not say it definitely couldn’t be justified. I will admit to being skeptical that it could be, although I don’t think the case against it is nearly as strong as against manned space science.

  • Paul: I did say that unmanned science would have to be justified on a cost/benefit basis

    Fortunately, decisions are not always made this way, even in these benighted times. While it is difficult to justify any space exploration purely on its current economic or scientific “cost effectiveness” compared to other activities, how much poorer would be the world if we were not mapping Mars and Titan, had not landed a geologist on Earth’s moon, and were not cooperating in a global construction project in orbit? I certainly would not want to live is such a poverty-stricken world — and if those who measure everything by their “cost effectiveness” want to, they’re welcome to it.

    Most likely, I would directly and personally benefit from a world where all science expenditure went for, say, cancer research. I do not volunteer to live in such a world, a world that cannot cough up a few pennies to send human beings to explore a new frontier.

    – Donald

  • al Fansome

    Sure, building GG bridges and container ships is fun for engineers, but we’re way too early for that. First, we have to do the hard but boreing work of using existing vehicles to create the market that will create fun projects for your children.

    Don,

    If Griffin was actually proposing to use EXISTING vehicles to create the market, then your argument would have merit. Using existing systems makes a lot of sense — most business executives take that approach. I wholeheartedly support that philosophical approach.

    Instead, Griffin has committed NASA to spending many many billions to design and develop entirely NEW LVs. (Nobody knows how many billions because Griffin won’t share that information with the American people. I believe this is because people would be quite shocked by the size of the numbers.)

    Because Griffin’s plan is to develop entire new LVs, your argument above falls apart.

    If our nation is going to spend many MANY billions to design and develop brand new LVs, then there are other quite legitimate paths to take, some of which will result in “Cheap Access to Space” (CATS).

    Griffin’s path has a ZERO percent chance of resulting in CATS.

    Other legitimate alternatives have a much greater chance.

    It is pretty simple.
    - Al

  • Paul Dietz

    how much poorer would be the world if we were not mapping Mars and Titan, had not landed a geologist on Earth’s moon, and were not cooperating in a global construction project in orbit?

    Well, the information has to be assigned some value, else why are we collecting it?

    A way to do this is to come up with scenarios in which the information leads to direct value. For example, explain how it helps to understand terrestrial geology (by supplying a comparison, or by giving information on the formation of the solar system itself), or how it might help future missions to Mars that are themselves justified in some other way.

    You can also look at historical data for unexpected scientific spinoffs, such as the discovery of the interesting properties of the plasma trapped in Jupiter’s magnetosphere that directly led Hasegawa to invent the dipole confinement scheme for magnetic fusion. This can’t predict what future spinoffs might occur, but could be used to estimate their probability, and get a rough handle on the expected value.

    You might object to all this, but valuation like this has to be done if rational decisionmaking is to be performed. How do we decide to send probes to Mars vs. the asteroids, for example? Some way has to be found to compare the value returned by the two options. Refusing to do so just assures the decision will be made poorly.

  • Al, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. True, Dr. Griffin has chosen to develop new launch vehicles in order to prepare for Mars — a decision that I consider a mistake. But, these vehicles use already developed components and are based on very well understood technologies and engineering principles. They are new systems, but they are not new technologies.

    It is guaranteed that completely new technology vehicles will cost more (probably a lot more) to develop, and it is only possible that they will reduce operational costs. I’ll believe it when I see it.

    I believe that Dr. Griffin made an unwise decision in going for new launch vehicles, especially since their cost has already meant dropping the methane rockets, which reduced or pushed out the potential “market” for lunar oxygen. It also pushes up the up0front costs for a goal — Mars — that we are nowhere near ready to tackle. Once again, it puts the cart before the horse. The plan that should have been persued would have used the EELVs to get started with the most basic possible lunar missions ASAP and with the least possible up-front costs.

    That wasn’t the decision that was made, but if I opposed every necessary project just because somebody chose to do it differently than I would, I’d be against just about everything. While Dr. Griffin has made a number of decisions that I consider politically unwise (whatever their engineering merits or lack thereof), the basic strategy of the VSE is still more-or-less in tact, and that is what I support.

    For a whole host of reasons, I’d like to see COTS and / or the EELVs become a much larger part of the VSE. (Note that by selecting the Delta-IVs engines, Dr. Griffin address part of my concern.) But opposing the VSE, or proposing fictional reusable vehicles instead of current-technology expendables, will not achieve that.

    – Donald

  • Al Fansome

    Al, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. True, Dr. Griffin has chosen to develop new launch vehicles in order to prepare for Mars — a decision that I consider a mistake. But, these vehicles use already developed components and are based on very well understood technologies and engineering principles. They are new systems, but they are not new technologies.

    So, if the designer(s), builder(s), owner/operator(s) of new spaceplane(s) use “already developed components” and “very well understood technologies and engineering principles” will that satisfy you enough to be willing to support a more aggressive commercial spaceplane initiative?

    It is guaranteed that completely new technology vehicles will cost more (probably a lot more) to develop, and it is only possible that they will reduce operational costs. I’ll believe it when I see it.

    Who here has said that the commercial guys will develop “completely new technology vehicles”, if they were to design reusable spaceplanes?

    In fact, commercial firms generally use existing off-the-shelf technology as much as possible in their systems. They do have engineering work to do, but they generally don’t use new tech.

    - Al

  • Al: So, if the designer(s), builder(s), owner/operator(s) of new spaceplane(s) use “already developed components” and “very well understood technologies and engineering principles” will that satisfy you enough to be willing to support a more aggressive commercial spaceplane initiative?

    A few years ago, yes, but not now. Too much water is under the bridge. I think it is far more politically important to execute the current plan than it is to come up with something more optimal now. That said, I would support changes around the edges, e.g., more money for COTS (if it didn’t come out of Orion) and the return of Methane engines in the lunar architecture. My belief now is that NASA should concentrate on the lunar architecture; commercial companies are now capable of handling LEO.

    – Donald

  • Al Fansome

    Al: So, if the designer(s), builder(s), owner/operator(s) of new spaceplane(s) use “already developed components” and “very well understood technologies and engineering principles” will that satisfy you enough to be willing to support a more aggressive commercial spaceplane initiative?

    DON: A few years ago, yes, but not now. Too much water is under the bridge. I think it is far more politically important to execute the current plan than it is to come up with something more optimal now.

    The way I read your philosophy, is that after the next President comes in, and installs their choice for the next NASA Administrator — and after they make their change in plans on how to go to the Moon/Mars (which they are likely to do) … that you are likely to be saying almost the very same thing.

    - Al

  • Al, that may well be true. Perfection is not achievable in the real world. I support results, and the potential thereof, not endless squabbling and indecision over what is or isn’t the best plan. If the plan of the day could work, and (most importantly) if it has political momentum and support behind it, than I will support that plan.

    I think my fundamental difference with most of the space community comes out of my archaeological background. Great achievements by governments in human history are far more dependent on consistant political support than they are on the particular technical details chosen to achieve them. If the political support is there, most things can be achieved no matter how awkward the implementation. If the political support isn’t there, all the technical skill and strategy and development in the world will not get you there.

    – Donald

  • Al Fansome

    DON: Great achievements by governments in human history are far more dependent on consistant political support than they are on the particular technical details chosen to achieve them. If the political support is there, most things can be achieved no matter how awkward the implementation. If the political support isn’t there, all the technical skill and strategy and development in the world will not get you there.

    Don,

    This statement illustrates where we most disagree. I want to eliminate the year-after-year, decade-after-decade REQUIREMENT to depend on the political support of the Government.

    The only way to do that is to create a self sustaining economic engine that drives the space economy.

    The only way to do that is for the US Government to stop trying to design, own and operate the space trucks.

    A long time ago, the our nation’s airways were driven by the extent of Government political support. But that is no longer the case. If our government investment in the “air frontier” is shut down, there will be nobody screaming about the end of “human airflight”.

    that is a good thing.

    - Al

  • Al, I agree with most of that. The problem is, we’re not ready to go to the moon without government support, so that requirement is still with us, whether we like it or not.

    We are ready to go to LEO without direct government support (beyond the existance of the Space Station), and, indeed, that is starting to happen. Without the uneconomic government creation of “unnatural” markets to create enough transportation to make real markets, it won’t happen, or at least not very soon.

    This, after all, is a well-tested model. Without vast R&D expenditures during the world wars, and the mail contracts, the airline industry as we know it would not have existed. Without the Federal freeway system, the personal automobile could not exist as we know it. And both of these are far, far easier projects than establishing bases in the Solar System.

    – Donald

  • Al Fansome

    DON: This, after all, is a well-tested model. Without vast R&D expenditures during the world wars, and the mail contracts, the airline industry as we know it would not have existed. Without the Federal freeway system, the personal automobile could not exist as we know it. And both of these are far, far easier projects than establishing bases in the Solar System.

    Don,

    Your examples make my point for me. The government can provide a major stimulus and major support for encouraging new space transportation systems to develop … but ***HOW*** they do this is critical.

    In the example of the “airmail” that you quote, the Government did NOT design/build/own the airplanes or operate the airlines. However, they did create an (initial) market, make major investments in new technologies, provide a positive regulatory environment, and further expand the market by buying specialized planes for national security purposes.

    In the case of the “federal highway system”, the Government provided a major stimulus by building and maintaining the highways (and the roads), but they do NOT design/build/operate the cars and trucks that run on those roads.

    A 3rd case is the Railroads, which you did not mention. This case further supports my point that a “partnership model” in which private industry designs/builds/operates the vehicles is the way to go. The Government provided a HUGE stimulus for private companies to build a transcontintental railroad. But the Government did NOT design/build/own the trains, or operate the railroads.

    So, why is “space” so different from the airways, the highways, and the railways — such that NASA insists on designing, owning and operating the space transportation system?

    Why can’t NASA **FULLY** commit to STIMULATING the private development of these systems — including the lunar system — just like our government did in for cars, airplanes, and trains?

    The answer is — there is no good reason other than “they don’t want to.”

    Which means it is a political issue.

    - Al

  • Actually, Al, you are wrong (or at least incomplete), especially in the case of the rail roads. The modern diesel-electric rail road engine is derived from the engines the government developed for submarines, and the infrastructure, of course, was heavily subsidized by the government. The most expensive part of the freeway network is just that, and the government did design and contract for their development (and even today directly pays for about a third of this supposedly free-market product). The airliners used to deliver mail were directly derived from the technologies developed for the world wars. Without the development of the bomber able to carry substantial cargo, there would have been nothing to carry mail and passengers in.

    In all cases, the government developed and deployed a technology first, that was later adapted deployed by private enterprise, usually also supported by heavy government subsidies. (Interestingly, the only transportation system today that survives without substantial subsidy is the freight rail industry.)

    More importantly, in all cases there was a market first (a place that required regular supplies to build a rail road to; a place to fly to; a place to drive to). In the case of Earth’s moon, we don’t have that last critical requirement, and that is why I believe that all of you who use these past models are so wrong.

    I’ve discussed the models that will work before, but in essence, they involve some sort of government-financed base. Once you have that, government-private partnerships (e.g., COTS) will work. But, without the Space Station, it is a safe bet that COTS would have been a political non-starter. Likewise, without some sort of lunar cargo requirement in place first, the equivalent for the moon will also be a political non-starter.

    I freely admit it’s possible I could be wrong in all of this, something my debating opponents here — supremely confident in their positions — seem unwilling to consider.

    Suppose I am wrong — fine, we end up with an overly-expensive base on the moon supported by Dr. Griffin’s vehicles, a market for some kind of “lunar COTS” — and we’ve wasted a hundred billion dollars. But, suppose I am right. We’ve still wasted a lot of money trying to deploy a politically unworkable system, and we do not have a lunar base to show for it. Which is the worse outcome?

    I’d rather waste the hundred billion dollars and have a lunar base that can support a future lunar COTS, than try to do the lunar COTS first and quite possibly end up with nothing.

    Donald

  • Al Fansome

    DON: Actually, Al, you are wrong (or at least incomplete), especially in the case of the rail roads. The modern diesel-electric rail road engine is derived from the engines the government developed for submarines, and the infrastructure, of course, was heavily subsidized by the government.

    Don,

    You probably read what I wrote … but it is clear from this paragraph that what I actually wrote did not sink in. I did not propose a pure free market solution. Far from it … I specifically stated up front that the railroads, and highways, and the airways, were the result of a PARTNERSHIP between Government & Industry.

    I specifically stated that the Government has a role in “investing” in new technology (like better engines … be it better Diesel engines … or the technology that is going into the modern 787 jet engines … or the revolutionary Liberty engine during WWI), and in heavily subsidizing the development of infrastructure (like the land grants for the transcontinental railroad, or the bridges and highways.)

    But in none of these cases — not in the railways, the airways, or the highways — does the Government design/manufacture/own OR operate the actual planes, trucks, or trains.

    The ONLY exceptions are

    1) The military, which does so for national security purposes … (a completely unique exception that nobody disagrees with), and

    2) NASA, only because it was born building its own spaceships in response to Kennedy’s challenge to beat the Russians to the Moon. The problem is that NASA has a hard time imagining a world in which it hands over the responsibility for designing/manufacturing/owning and operating the VEHICLES to private industry.

    DON: The most expensive part of the freeway network is just that, and the government did design and contract for their development (and even today directly pays for about a third of this supposedly free-market product).

    Don, you either did not undestand my point, or are choosing to ignore my point. The freeway networks is “infrastructure”. I agree it is the most expensive part, and that this was a good thing for government to do.

    My point is that the Government did not design/build the cars — that was the job of private industry. We never would have had a revolution in car manufacturing to make it affordable to the average citizen — like that provided by Henry Ford — if we had let the Government put itself in charge of designing and building our cars.

    DON: The airliners used to deliver mail were directly derived from the technologies developed for the world wars. Without the development of the bomber able to carry substantial cargo, there would have been nothing to carry mail and passengers in.

    Don, it is clear again, that did not understand me, or did not read what I wrote. I have wrote, and have repeatedly written that the Government has a critical role in developing technology –> but that is not the point I am making here.

    POINT: The Government is NOT effective or efficient at building airplanes, or designing them, or operating them.

    U.S. industry actually built the “bombers” that the U.S. military used in WWI. The U.S. government subsidized the development of the Liberty engine that went in them. The U.S. government did not design those airplanes, nor did it build them.

    The same is true for WWII.

    Proof of my point — During the “airmail” days, the Government actually took over control of the airmail because of fraud in letting the airmail contracts. The government took over the operational airmail business, and within a very short period of time totally messed it up. A lot of pilots died, and as a reult they gave back to the job of operating the airmail service to industry very soon thereafter.

    DON: In all cases, the government developed and deployed a technology first, that was later adapted deployed by private enterprise, usually also supported by heavy government subsidies. (Interestingly, the only transportation system today that survives without substantial subsidy is the freight rail industry.)

    Great, then lets:

    1) take the space technology that the Government has developed, and lets give it to industry for “adapting”, “deploying”, and incorporating that technology into newly designed spaceships to U.S. industry. Let U.S. industry own and operate the space transportation systems.

    2) let the US Government heavily subsidize this hand-off — much more heavily than we are currently doing. Let’s create tax credits and tax holidays, and prizes for the subsidies. Let’s create long-term multi-year service purchase contracts.

    DON: More importantly, in all cases there was a market first (a place that required regular supplies to build a rail road to; a place to fly to; a place to drive to). In the case of Earth’s moon, we don’t have that last critical requirement, and that is why I believe that all of you who use these past models are so wrong.

    Great!!! I agree we need a destination, and that the Government can do this. I agree we need infrastructure at the Moon, and that Government can do this also. NASA can focus on establishing a “fort on the frontier”, and it will pay private U.S. industry to deliver supplies and people to/from that fort.

    I think this is a wonderful idea. Let’s do it!

    - Al

  • Al: I understood you, but I don’t think you understood me. I agree that all of these things ended up being partnerships, but they didn’t start out that way. It was not a private-public partnership that created the first diesel-electric engines, but it was a private-public partnership that developed n-generation versions of that. It certainly was not a private-public partnership that created the freeway network, nor the first generation heavy bombers, nor did one create the modern infrastructure — the air traffic control system. Likewise, it is not likely to be a private-public partnership that creates the first generation permanent lunar infrastructure, though we should encourage that to evolve as quickly as possible. Why would any private organization driven by economics invest anything in transportation to Earth’s moon today?

    And, to reiterate what I said above, I am not willing to risk our future in space on the possibility that this might happen — especially since these are not mutually exclusive options. The prior existence of government launch vehicles were a requirement for COTS since they deployed the Space Station — COTS’ only realistic market. Likewise, they have not precluded COTS. The same is likely to be true for a lunar base. If Dr. Griffin’s vehicles are as bad as you say, and if there is a market on the moon, there is nothing to prevent somebody else from undercutting them.

    DON: Without the development of the bomber able to carry substantial cargo, there would have been nothing to carry mail and passengers in. Don, it is clear again, that did not understand me, or did not read what I wrote. I have wrote, and have repeatedly written that the Government has a critical role in developing technology

    Not just technology, but (with the possible exception of the automobile) the first-generation vehicles.

    POINT: The Government is NOT effective or efficient at building airplanes, or designing them, or operating them.

    I would not put it as strongly but I do basically agree with this. However, private industry is not good at developing first generation vehicles that have no market. Again, it was not a public-private partnership that deployed the first suborbital space plane, a technology that is only now being commercialized. It was not a public-private partnership that launched the first spacecraft, that went to the moon the first time, nor was it one that built the first submarines beyond individual hobby-level efforts. And so on.

    U.S. industry actually built the “bombers” that the U.S. military used in WWI.

    And U.S. industry will build Orion, et al, if they ever get built.

    The U.S. government did not design those airplanes

    The basic ideas behind the current strategy came from Orbital Sciences and United Technologies. Lockheed Martin designed Orion to government specifications. Now, how was this different from WWII?

    take the space technology that the Government has developed, and lets give it to industry for “adapting”, “deploying”, and incorporating that technology into newly designed spaceships to U.S. industry

    That’s exactly what is happening with COTS — and I fully support that. But COTS has a market. Lunar COTS does not, and that is the crucial difference that you never address.

    NASA can focus on establishing a “fort on the frontier”, and it will pay private U.S. industry to deliver supplies and people to/from that fort.

    That may well happen, but only after the fort is built.

    At bottom, your argument (and that of the far less rational “free market ideologues” out there) boils down to, “my way or the high way.” We’ve been handed the one true way this can work from on high, so we should forget every other option and work exclusively with that strategy. Every other idea is wasting taxpayer money.

    What I am saying is, we don’t know how this can be done because humanity has not done anything like this since the development of deep-sea travel starting about ten thousand years ago. We should deploy every strategy we can. The government building a lunar base with government-developed vehicles does not preclude private and private-government coalitions doing the same — especially if the government vehicles prove to be as inefficient compared to what private companies can develop as you believe. But if you rely exclusively on private or semi-private efforts that have no market, and it doesn’t work, than you’re up shit creek.

    – Donald