Reviewing the Blitz

Last month the NSS conducted its Space Budget Blitz on Capitol Hill, trying to get support for increasing NASA’s budget. Blitz chairman Chris Carberry summarizes the event for Ad Astra, which features meetings with over 60 offices, including face-to-face meetings with Reps. Ralph Hall and Nick Lampson. One item of note from the report is an apparent increasing concern about the “gap” in US government space access between the retirement of the shuttle and the introduction of Orion:

It was apparent that a number of Representatives are getting more uncomfortable with the fact that the United States will be unable to launch humans into orbit for such a long period. This fear was compounded by China’s recent launch of an anti-satellite missile. It will be interesting to see if the apparent Iranian launch will even further magnify this Congressional angst over the ‘gap’.

It’s a bit difficult to understand how a gap in NASA’s ability to put humans in space would be exacerbated or otherwise affected by an ASAT test or an Iranian sounding rocket flight, but logical and rational thought is hardly in ample supply in Washington.

9 comments to Reviewing the Blitz

  • kert

    There was a recent relatively long gap in NASA capability to put a man in space. Had to do with a certain pile of debris all over Texas.
    Did the sky fall ? No, americans still went to space, in a small ship called SS1 and in a bigger one, called Soyuz. It bears to note that both options cost a whole lot less than the grounded alternative.

  • anon

    If Members of Congress are worried about Chinese ASAT capabilities, here is something that is targeted at trying to address the problem.

    Orbital Express: Prototype Satellites Primed for In-Flight Service

    If you have an on-orbit refueling capability, then you can afford to “liberally” use the on-board supply of prop of an imaging spysat in LEO to avoid an ASAT, and then refuel later. This could be sufficient to defend against some ASAT designs.

    If Congress wants to address the ASAT threat from China/Iran, and if they want NASA to help, they would call a hearing on why NASA is not using an architecture that *requires* on-orbit refueling of a LEO propellant depot and lots of launches from commercially provided launchers (thereby creating demand for what is called “operationally resposive spacelift” in the DoD and cheap access to space elsewhere.

    Operationally responsive spacelift gives you the capability to quickly relaunch satellites to orbit if the ASAT takes one out. (Thus China thinks to itself “Why start a war with the U.S. by blowing up one or more of their satellites if it is not going to do us much good, because they are just going to replace them quickly?)

    I hope Boeing’s OrbExpress experiment succeeds.

    Beyond this, Congress could ask Griffin when he is going to become serious about a propellant depot. At least one major U.S. aerospace company would like to develop a propellant depot. A Boeing executive has recently presented a paper on the benefits of a propellant depot to the VSE, and talked to the Space Show about it.


    Our discussion with Dallas focused on building an on orbit propellant depot to enhance and facilitate the VSE program with NASA and to also serve the developing private sector space community. Dallas took us through all phases of building a propellant depot and we discussed the four most significant hurdles: the cost of space access, zero g fuel transfer, long term cryogenic storage, and the autonomous rendezvous and docking necessary for the depot. … He also will send interested listeners a copy of his recent STAIF paper and presentation slides. You can e-mail Dallas Bienhoff at dallas.g.bienhoff@boeing.com

    – Anon

  • anonymous

    I’m not sure that the gap is a real issue at all. NASA has yet to present data showing that it actually had greater turnover in its or its contractors’ human space flight program and project managers, technical leads, and other critical personnel between 1975 and 1981 (versus other periods). Until I see such data, I think Griffin’s concerns exist more in his memory than in any real historical account.

    That said, even if the historical data show the effect of the Apollo/Shuttle gap to be real and damaging, there are big differences between that situation and coming Shuttle/Orion gap. Between Apollo and Shuttle, NASA human space flight had nothing operational to fly or even in test flight — nada, zero. Contrast that with today when, even after Shuttle is retired, NASA managers and technical leads will still be busy keeping the Space Station operational, managing foreign vehicle flights (Soyuz, Progress, ATV, HTV) and any COTS flights that emerge to the Station, and carrying out the steady progression of planned Ares 1 test flights. Not that I’m a big fan of ISS or Ares 1, but assuming the “gap” effect is a real concern, having to operate and manage a space station program and associated supply flights and getting a handful of launch vehicle test flights accomplished should make a huge difference in retaining a skilled human space flight workforce.

    Finally, if Griffin’s “gap” is not about the human space flight workforce in general, but about the heavy lift workforce and infrastructure specifically, then he should stop wasting so much time and money on Ares 1 and get a heavy lift vehicle underway.

    To be brutally honest, Griffin is just delaying and exacerbating the tough workforce resizing decisions that are going to have to be made once the Shuttle is retired. If the entire (or even a majority) of the Shuttle workforce is retained, Ares 1 and V costs will skyrocket and no human lunar return will be affordable. Griffin has punted this critical Shuttle/Ares workforce resizing issue to his successor, and if the “gap” effect is real, that Administrator would probably view it as a semi-positive thing that will help mitigate the large RIFs that will be inevitable if Shuttle is retired and the lunar return effort is still to go forward.

    Probably the only real concern with a lengthening gap is that it might give the woefully underfunded COTS effort a chance to catch up and make the whole Ares 1 investment unnecessary — but that’s been one of many problems with Ares 1 from the get-go.

    In any case, workforce concerns are a weak justification for spending on any program — such arguments are self-licking ice cream cones that only appeal to limited parochial concerns in Congress — these arguments usually don’t carry the day when it comes to a floor vote. Griffin needs to stop whining about the effects of a Shuttle/Orion gap on a human space flight workforce that his successor is going to have to shrink anyway. Instead, Griffin needs to build a solid rationale for exploration that concretely addresses issues outside the human space flight community and replan to get some actual exploration hardware underway within the limited resources Congress is giving him before the next election.

    Of course, I’m arguing the perfect-world case where we had a NASA Administrator who could recognize the situation and adjust accordingly. In the real world we do not have such an Administrator, and Griffin will continue to use false, unsupported, and weak arguments about a “gap” to justify an unnecessary Ares 1 truck that is slowing consuming the limited resources and political window available to get any real human exploration effort underway.

    Someone should copy one of the Gap Jeans commercial and do a satirical YouTube spot about Griffin’s “gap”…

  • canttellya

    Vinogradov’s comments, as mentioned by Dwayne Day in his recent article in the Space Review, certainly do not appear to provide any encouragement to those seeking to justify gov’t funded human spaceflight through the research to be conducted on the ISS.

    The ESAS lunar architecture is expensive and complicated, optimized only for jobs that will have to be cut anyway, as anonymous has accurately pointed out.

    The gap between Apollo and Shuttle vs. the gap between Shuttle/ISS and ESAS had another important difference. The engineers supposedly idled during the 70’s gap had experience designing and building spacecraft–indeed they were busy designing the shuttle, an absolute technical marvel when it first flew in 1981. Today’s NASA engineers have no such design experience, and there is comparitively little to be lost by letting them go, unlike in the 70’s. Most NASA personnel do little but manage contracts and work requirements.

  • John Malkin

    The concern over the “gap” predates Dr. Griffin. The concern I think grew out of the team which created VSE and I think it might have been Mr. O’Keefe that actually initiated the concern. I don’t remember if CAIB talks about it in their report. I don’t have time to look it up.

    I do think Dr. Griffin is exploiting the concern over the “gap” to get more money but I don’t really blame him. We know NASA struggles for every dime.

    Even if the “gap” will not have a negative impact it won’t have a positive one. The questions are “Does eliminating the “gap” create any positive benefits to the nation?” and “Are these benefits worth the money?”

  • John,

    The CAIB did not talk about the gap. There was no “gap” until the VSE of January 2004 called for retiring the Shuttle in 2010 and set the goal for CEV to arrive by 2014. NASA wanted to have enough money to keep flying Shuttle *until* the CEV would arrive, but there wasn’t enough money in the outyears to do this. Therefore a gap was created.


    as usual you are dead on. But there is one quasi-valid reason NASA and its contractors are so fixated on the gap issue. They know that if the CEV deadline of 2014 isn’t written in stone, then the Return to the moon deadline of 2020 is written on wet toilet paper. Therefore they are using every argument — we need it for ISS, we can’t have a gap, it’s national security dammit — they can to get Orion and Ares 1 underway. Then, hopefully that will build momentum and get can start all the lunar stuff.

    of course, they don’t NEED Ares 1. They could start working on lunar-related stuff SOONER if they got off it re Ares 1.

    but they have made their bed.

    I am really worried that we are going to sacrifice returning to the moon on the altar of “replacing the shuttle as soon as possible”. Which still may not happen until 2015 or later, anti-gap hystrionics notwithstanding.

    – heavy sigh

  • Dennis Ray Wingo

    I’m not sure that the gap is a real issue at all. NASA has yet to present data showing that it actually had greater turnover in its or its contractors’ human space flight program and project managers, technical leads, and other critical personnel between 1975 and 1981 (versus other periods). Until I see such data, I think Griffin’s concerns exist more in his memory than in any real historical account.


    If you think this you should have been in Brevard county FL in 1978. Houses on the beach were going for about $30k from the space industry depression at the time.

  • anonymous

    “If you think this you should have been in Brevard county FL in 1978. Houses on the beach were going for about $30k from the space industry depression at the time.”

    No doubt the workforce got smaller because nothing was flying. NASA and its contractors cannot retain the entirety of such an expensive workforce in idle — it would have been a major waste of taxpayer dollars to do otherwise. Griffin should not be worried about the jobs his successor is going to have to get rid of to ensure that Ares 1 and V can be launched more cost-effectively than Shuttle. Griffin should be worried about the positions he’s going to need to retain through the transition so that Ares 1 and V can efficiently, effectively, and safely enter operations.

    Going back to my original statement, the key question is whether NASA and its contractors are able to retain these critical personnel — managers, technical leads, etc. — during the transition. Was there more turnover in these positions during the Apollo/Shuttle gap than in other periods? NASA has yet to show the data. If yes, then NASA has a problem to manage during the Shuttle/Orion gap (and needs to shrink that gap by getting off Ares 1). If no, it’s not a problem that needs to be managed, especially given that ISS, COTS, foreign partner vehicle, and Ares 1 test flight work will all be happening during the Shuttle/Orion gap — unlike the total absence of human space flight operations during the Apollo/Shuttle gap.

  • David Baker

    There is an environment at NASA which is common in all publicly funded agencies: Keep yourself in business. Justify your existence. Never let the people who are taxed to pay your expenses know that you’re obsolete, and inefficient. NASA works on the paradigm of manned missions, without acknowledging the heavy restrictions placed on such endeavors. Robotic systems have developed to the point where unmanned flights can be just as capable as manned flights. We can’t get to Mars because of the manned-mission aspect. There’s no technology currently available which can reliably transport manned spacecraft for that distance.

    NASA must first develop the necessary capabilities before they even consider such an immense project. Better yet, the agency should scrap every other non-beneficial program (there are a few…), and seriously consider establishing a research team for improving methods of propulsion, which can accelerate payloads out of Earth’s gravity, propel those payloads at a much higher velocity towards Mars, and have sufficient reserve for the research period, lift-off from Mars, and the round trip portion.

    Our money is being wasted on the Shuttle. NASA’s management is wholly unprepared to oversee a mission as complex and far-reaching as the Mars Program. We need capable, open minded and technically knowledgable people running NASA. Without marked improvement in the agency’s hierarchy, we will just be watching a low orbit dinosaur circle around our developmentally arrested planet.

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