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How to build a political consensus for space

In this week’s issue of The Space Review, Frank Sietzen examines the lack of presidential attention to the Vision and what’s needed to build bipartisan support for the effort. On the former, Sietzen is blunt:

The Vision for Space Exploration was established at a time of record deficits, when America was conducting one war against terror in Afghanistan and another in Iraq. The war in Iraq is costing Americans two billion dollars a week. This president has shown no interest in either science or space, and is the head of a political party many of whose members doubt the veracity of evolution and climate change. Given these political realities it is surprising not that the Vision has its flaws, but that Bush set forth a space vision at all.

On the latter issue, he brings up some recent research (incorporated into NASA’s new strategic communications plan) regarding how people become more supportive of NASA once they realize the effect the agency’s work has had on society. “If we wish to craft any enduring political consensus that lasts, one strong enough to form the basis of any future president’s space policy, then it is clear that a lot of educating of the average citizen must be done,” he writes. “The broadest such consensus can most likely be built around a civil space program that neither shortchanges Earth or space science or long-term human exploration.”

Also of interest in this week’s issue is an essay by Taylor Dinerman reviewing a 1958 document on why the US should go into space. The reasons provided in that paper are largely the same ones at the center of national space policy today: exploration, science, defense, and national prestige. “It may be that since the nature of the rockets used to get into space have not changed all that much since the days of Sputnik, a policy designed when America’s first ICBM, the Atlas, had not yet entered service may still provide useful guidance in the absence of a cheaper way to get into orbit,” he writes. “However, the unchanging nature of outer space itself—and the unchanging nature of human beings—may be what make this basic statement so valuable.”

One final note: posting here will be light this week, since not only is it the summer doldrums in political circles, I’m on travel all week.

61 comments to How to build a political consensus for space

  • MarkWhittington

    The last couple of sentences in the quote is a cheap political shot that detracts quite a bit from the piece. The President’s “disinterest” is a strange sort that is resulting in such things as NASA’s transformation, a lot of money being thrown at alternate energy research, and others things that could bear mentioning. A lot of scientists are climate change skeptics and a lot of Democrats don’t believe in evolution.

    Steitzen should check his facts before revealing idealogical biases.

  • Keith Cowing

    As far as ‘biases” go, Mark, Frank (a loyal republican who worked very hard to elect and re-elect Bush BTW) is being honest.

    You are the one who needs to be checking your facts, Mark.

  • MarkWhittington

    Keith – I didn’t mention anything about Frank’s particular political affiliation. You should read what I actually wrote before leaping to the keyboard.

    The fact is that it was a cheap political shot that is not really backed up by evidence.

  • richardb

    Remember the Jerry Ford vote? He couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time. It was cruel for him but true about Presidents in general. Even 2 term presidents are lucky if they get just a couple big accomplishments. I don’t care how you slice it, VSE is small in the world that Bush inhabits. There is the 9/11 problem. There is the rise of China. The Rise of Russia. The perpetual quest for a “Middle East Peace” and so forth. Clinton had welfare reform, federal debt reduction, European security and little else. Bush I had peaceful German reunification and the tranquil fall of the Russian Empire. Reagan was an exception, much like FDR & LBJ with many accomplishments. Lets not discuss Carter. But the idea that presidents can or will spend much time on Nasa is a reach back 45 years ago during the Camelot era of presidential love.

  • richardb

    Sorry, Dr Freud was alive. For “vote” read “joke” in above.

  • HBV

    “The broadest such consensus can most likely be built around a civil space program that neither shortchanges Earth or space science or long-term human exploration.”

    Ummmm…..yeah. Now all they have to do is build a space program that has this balance.

  • MarkWhittington

    And yet, Richard, an attempt by Congress to throttle VSE in the first year was met by the President’s first ever veto threat. VSE may be small comapred to Iraq, say, but it is still of some improtance.

    Just as an aside, for those who think that the GOP is made up of a bunch of inbred, religious yahoos who deny evolution, take a look at the following link that describes support for creationism at Nation Public Radio. Of course, it’s Islamic Creationism, so I suppose it’s alright.

    http://ace.mu.nu/archives/236900.php

  • BobS

    I think Sietzen’s piece really hits the bull’s eye on this subject. It is the best thing I have read on the topic in quite a while. Some can and will endlessly make excuses for President Bush and his Administration (see above postings), but the fact is that they spent money and time on things they thought were important without any genuine concern about deficits. Space clearly wasn’t on that list — and it still isn’t. Bush’s lack of interest and curiosity on so many crucial topics will be his true legacy. As for NASA, we will have to try to forge a bipartisan consensus without the benefit of the Administration in the near term and just hope that the next Democratic President will have an open mind toward NASA and human space exploration and be willing to continue to press forward with Griffin’s well planned exploration agenda.

  • richardb

    “As for NASA, we will have to try to forge a bipartisan consensus without the benefit of the Administration in the near term and just hope that the next Democratic President will have an open mind toward NASA”. Really reaching there smoky pipe dreams aren’t we?

    I might point out that last Democratic President and Congress did no favors for Nasa in terms of budget and forgot about Nasa once the ISS was designed into its current config early in Clinton’s first term.

  • Habitat Hermit

    “This president has shown no interest…”

    Frank Sietzens opinion becomes irrelevant when he manages a howler like that. Can’t say I’m impressed by those who agree with such an obvious incongruity either.

    It’s outright silly to argue that the same administration which put forward the VSE (created in the White House by Bush et al) has shown no interest in space. The VSE on its own is arguably far more (and more important) than what little recent administrations have done.

    Yes, it would matter more if NASA wasn’t busy wrecking it with a flawed implementation but that’s a seperate debate.

  • anonymous

    Mr. Sietzen argues that it’s surprising that the Bush Administration put forth any civil space plan at all after Columbia, given all the other competing demands on White House time. I question that. At a minimum, after NASA lost a second Space Shuttle and astronaut crew, any White House would have to decide basic questions about whether the Shuttle flies again, for how long, and what, if anything, replaces it. These are things that NASA can propose but can’t decide by itself, and Congressional debate would eventually force any White House to express its desires one way or the other. Just by the necessities of the decisions required and how our system of government works, any White House would have to get involved.

    What I found remarkable about the Vision for Space Exploration was not that the Bush II White House put forward a plan at all, but rather the very high quality of the plan that was laid out. The driving emphasis on the search for habitable environments, the long-term viewpoint, the multiple research targets, the integration of robotic and human explorers, the flexible timeframes for budgetary sustainability, and the leveraging of international and private sector competition and capabilities is a combination of powerful policy prescriptives that has not existed in any other White House civil space plan or policy. After 50-odd years of U.S. civil space exploration, the VSE was a pretty amazing step ahead, and we probably won’t see a similar plan for another 50 years.

    That said, Sietzen is right that NASA has failed “to change” and that without such “transformation”, the agency will “be unable to accomplish the goals of the Vision”. Sietzen mentions that the Aldridge Commission’s recommendations, especially with regards to “commercial space systems”, have “largely been forgotten” and that NASA risks “becoming irrelevant” as a result. But it’s more than that. Despite the policy direction in the VSE several years ago, NASA has: sacrificed practically all the robotic elements of the VSE; forsaken any international involvement for the next decade or so in the VSE; lost all budget sustainability for actual lunar exploration elements to high Ares I/Orion costs (although Congress and the White House bear some responsibility here, too); and collapsed the VSE to two vehicles that are incapable of supporting exploration and good for little more than the LEO flight and space station activities that have marked NASA human space flight for the past few decades.

    And that’s where I’d argue that the Bush II White House has fallen down on civil space. After releasing such a powerful plan, the White House has failed in the execution, partly on budget but mainly in its managment and oversight responsibility with respect to NASA. Instead of riding herd on NASA to ensure that the agency implemented the key elements of the VSE, the White House has allowed and even accelerated NASA’s reversion to form. Appointing and then allowing Griffin to turn the VSE into “Apollo on steroids” (actually “Apollo minus the Moon”) negated the promise of the VSE and will likely restrict NASA human space flight to Earth orbit for at least another White House or two, on top of all the damage done to other NASA programs.

    One can only hope that the next White House has the same foresight that the Bush II White House demonstrated in crafting the VSE and will have the fortitude to correct NASA’s implementation of the VSE instead of just throwing the VSE and NASA budget overboard. But in the absence of another Columbia-like “hinge of history” (in Mr. Sietzen’s words), the likelihood of lightning striking twice is very slim.

    My 2 cents… FWIW.

  • MarkWhittington

    Anon I think adds to a certain political bias with his claims about VSE. There is zero evidence that it is somehow disfucntional or that it’s on the verge of collapse or any of the other things I’ve heard on the Internet. The biggest howler is that VSE will somehow restrict people to LEO for the next few Presidential administrations. Except, of course, the next administration will leave office in 2017 no matter what and if the schedule proceeds as most still expect, Americans will return to the Moon during the administration after the next. (Or if the next administration has only four years and the one after only four years, then the next after the next, which would kind of sort of vidicate Anon.)

    Anon also forgets that the Moon effort is just part of what NASA is doin anew. COTS and the Centennial Competitions are both things that would have been unimagined in the bad old Goldin/Abbey era. NASA may not have changed enough to satisfy everyone, but it has changed and I suspect will continue to change. The process will not be entirely satisfactory to everyone, but that is how life is.

  • Keith Cowing

    Whittington: “The fact is that it was a cheap political shot that is not really backed up by evidence.”

    Prove it.

  • Keith Cowing

    And Mark, please explain this odd posting on your blog – at http://www.curmudgeons.blogspot.com/ I see no mention of “raving creationists” in Frank’s article. Why do you make stuff up like this all the time? Why do you attribute things to people when they never even said them in the first place?

    “Addendum: If Frank Sietzen thinks that the Republican Party is solely made up of raving creationists, he might be interested in this story of how creationism actually found favor with a science corespondent for National Public Radio. Of course it was Islamic Creationism, but the princible applies.”

  • Donald F. Robertson

    Anonymous: What I found remarkable about the Vision for Space Exploration was not that the Bush II White House put forward a plan at all, but rather the very high quality of the plan that was laid out. . . . After releasing such a powerful plan, the White House has failed in the execution, partly on budget but mainly in its managment and oversight responsibility with respect to NASA.

    Anonymous and I may disagree about where and how to go forward from here, but in this I fully agree with him. As is frequently the case, he has hit the nail precisely on the head.

    – Donald

  • anonymous

    “Anon I think adds to a certain political bias with his claims about VSE.”

    Huh?

    How is both defending the Bush II Administration for its development the VSE and criticizing the Bush II Administration for its execution of the VSE a demonstration of “political bias”?

    On the contrary, isn’t that the definition of a lack of “political bias”?

    And how do you know what my political biases are or are not? How do you know that I’m not a Republican just like you?

    “There is zero evidence that it is somehow disfucntional”

    FACT: When ESAS was rolled out in December 2005, Ares I/Orion would be operational 7 (seven) years out, in 2012, resulting in a U.S. civil human space flight gap of only two years after Shuttle’s retirement. It’s now more almost two years later, August 2007, and an operational Ares I/Orion system is now 8 (EIGHT!) years out, in 2015, resulting in a human space flight gap of FIVE years after Shuttle retirement. The Ares I/Orion schedule is receding faster than the rate of time in our universe!

    FACT: Even then, the Constellation program only has a 65% chance of meeting the 2015 operational date for the Ares I/Orion system based on the mismatch between Constellation’s budget and the technical content of the Ares I and Orion projects. If the schedule was realigned to better match the budget at an industry-standard 80% chance of success, the operational date for the Ares I/Orion system would lie out in the 2016-2017 timeframe.

    FACT: Warnings have already appeared in Lockheed Martin documents that Orion cannot hold to the 2015 schedule, especially with all the dramatic redesigns being undertaken to better match up Orion’s mass with Ares I performance for the lunar architecture. See http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewsr.html?pid=24647.

    FACT: By NASA’s own rules in ESAS, as a new system, Orion must have 20% mass margin. See http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewsr.html?pid=19094. Orion’s total launch mass is approximately 65,000 lbs. with the mass of the Command Module at appromixately 22,000 lbs. See http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/content/?cid=5167. But when using Ares I as a launcher for the lunar architecture, Orion’s mass margin is at practically zero. See http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/content/?cid=5167. When we do the math (20% of 22,000 lbs.), this means that there is a performance/mass mismatch between Ares I and Orion in the neighborhood of 4,000 lbs.

    FACT: To make up this shortfall, NASA and Lockheed Martin are considering dramatic changes to Orion’s design that would substantially and negatively impact Orion’s reliability, safety, operability, and operational costs. Among the changes being considered are the removal of various redundant safety systems, radiation shielding, and the airbag system for ground landings. See http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewsr.html?pid=24647 and http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/content/?cid=5187.

    FACT: It’s far from clear that any desireable combination of these mass-saving measures will make up for the mass shortfall. As a result, LockMart has received new direction from NASA to concentrate “on ensuring Orion can achieve ISS mission roles” because Orion has used up “all of its reserve and weight growth allowances.” See http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/content/?cid=5167. Although the first Ares I/Orion design will be capable of servicing the ISS, NASA will have to pay for the design and development of a second Orion and/or Ares I design for the lunar architecture (or pick different requirements/architecture/vehicles altogether).

    FACT: Griffin himself has told his senior managers that “the decision to explore beyond Earth orbit” is no longer up to the Bush II Administration and now “will be determined by the next administration.” See http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewsr.html?pid=24697.

    I guess is depends on your definition of “disfunctional [sic]“. But I would argue that an activity that started out with the intent of minimizing the U.S. civil human space flight gap and locking in a human lunar return before the end of the Bush II Administration — but which now will rely on the good graces of the next White House to fund actual lunar exploration hardware (Ares V/EDS/LSAM as well as the lunar-capable Ares I/Orion); which is now limited to producing ISS-capable hardware due to mismatches in Ares I performance and Orion mass; and which even then will more than double the human space flight gap to five years (and growing) — is the very definition of “disfunctional [sic]“.

    Of course, this says nothing of the fact that the key managers most closely identified with the faulty technical choices made in ESAS and Constellation (e.g., Horowitz) are leaving the agency in the wake of these problems.

    And it also says nothing of the budgetary damage that the effort has done to other key elements of the VSE, including the elimination of: missions from the Mars Program, any mission to the outer moons, and telescopes to characterize extrasolar planets.

    I would also ask the counter-question… where is the recent, publicly available evidence showing, contrary to the facts, figures, articles, and program documentation above, that the program is doing well?

    “The biggest howler is that VSE will somehow restrict people to LEO for the next few Presidential administrations.”

    Where did I argue that the VSE will restrict NASA to LEO?

    I argued that NASA and the Bush II White House’s execution of the VSE, both in terms of performance limitations on Ares I/Orion and how budget decisions on actual lunar hardware (Ares V/EDS/LSAM as well as a lunar-capable Ares I/Orion) have been pushed out to the next Presidency, are highly likely to restrict NASA to LEO for at least another couple White Houses.

    ESAS, Griffin’s subsequent decisions, and White House concurrence in those decisions are not the same thing as the plan laid out in the VSE. It’s a critical distinction.

    “Except, of course, the next administration will leave office in 2017 no matter what”

    It’s not decisions in 2017 that are important. It’s decisions in 2009 (when the new President takes office) and in 2011 (when the budget for Ares V/EDS/LSAM now starts) that are important.

    It is no longer up to the Bush II White House to fund the actual lunar exploration hardware (Ares V, EDS, LSAM) necessary to complete NASA’s lunar architecture. That decision is now up to the next White House.

    “and if the schedule proceeds as most still expect,”

    Who are these nameless “most” who, contrary to the program documentation above, believe that the schedule is holding?

    “Americans will return to the Moon during the administration after the next. (Or if the next administration has only four years and the one after only four years, then the next after the next, which would kind of sort of vidicate Anon.)

    Anon also forgets that the Moon effort is just part of what NASA is doin anew”

    I’m not trying to be mean to Mr. Whittington, but the passage directly above is just unintelligible. Maybe I’m slow, but I’ve read it several times, and I don’t see the point.

    “COTS and the Centennial Competitions are both things that would have been unimagined in the bad old Goldin/Abbey era.”

    Despite promises in Griffin’s early speeches, Centennial Challenges hasn’t received any new funding in years. The program is running on fumes. It was started under O’Keefe, and Griffin has all but killed it through neglect.

    COTS is a good (if very poorly funded) program, but hardly a new idea. COTS is a retread of the old ISS Alternative Access program and elements of the Space Launch Initiative, both of which started during the Goldin era (but after Griffin fired Abbey). Heck, even the players are the same. Kistler won a demo contract from NASA under the Space Launch Initiative, which Space-X later successfully challenged. Now these two companies are going head-to-head again in COTS.

    “NASA may not have changed enough to satisfy everyone, but it has changed and I suspect will continue to change. The process will not be entirely satisfactory to everyone, but that is how life is.”

    This misses the point. It’s not a question of who is or is not satisfied by NASA’s institutional changes (or lack thereof). It’s a question of whether NASA has changed enough to carry out the mission given to it.

    FWIW…

  • anonymous

    Correcting an error…

    “The Ares I/Orion schedule is receding faster than the rate of time in our universe!”

    I meant to say that “The U.S. civil human space flight gap is growing faster than the rate of time in our universe!”

    Apologies…

  • Nemo2

    I agree with Frank Sietzen’s and Anon’s statements about the extremely well written White House VSE. I believe Mr. Muncy gave it an A- at NewSpace 2007. I think Lori Garver essentially agreed.

    I also agree with Frank’s and Anon’s statements about NASA’s failure to effectively implement the VSE. Mr. Muncy said something like “I will call it incomplete” (I got the feeling he wanted to say “F”). Lori Garver said she gives the Administration a C- overall, and it was clear that much of the negative was on their implementation of the VSE. Based on Courtney’s body language, and words, I have to think he agreed with Muncy, Garver, Sietzen and anon. He was very careful during the discussion, and indicated that if he said what he really thought, that somebody would be quite upset.

    I think there is a growing consensus — across all space policy experts of all stripes — that VSE was a wonderfully written document, and that ESAS is a failure. (Sorry, Mr. Whittington, you have demonstrated any real space policy expertise.)

    I happen to agree with Anon’s description of why this is so — that the Bush Administration hired Griffin, and then failed for enforce WH policy on NASA. I would just add that part of the reason for this is that the people in the WH who wrote the VSE have left. I am persuaded that they would have taken stronger actions, to enforce the VSE, where their replacements are comparatively content to let NASA do whatever it likes.

    - Nemo2

  • HBV

    Let me point out again that this “endurng political consensus” that Frank writes about involves having a balanced program that “neither shortchanges Earth or space science or long-term human exploration.”

    This does not describe Bush’s policies or NASA’s programs. Bush has significantly cut Earth sicences and global warming research at NASA. His administration has rewritten reports and attempted to muzzle scientists and has settled for “voluntary” programs that have done little to address the problem.

    An effort to “educate” the public about NASA along theses lines would be a farce. People would see through it. You have to build a balanced program then sell it as such.

  • Donald F. Robertson

    HBV, what follows is in no way intended to defend the Bush administration’s record on science, which I consider appalling.

    I think no one disputes that, wisely or unwisely, NASA under Dr. Griffin has cut the growth of automated reconnaissance and Earth science. Likewise, with the Shuttle in its operations phase, these programs grew as a relative percentage of the NASA budget in the 1980s and 1990s at the expense of human spaceflight. Neither of these statements have any bearing on whether the activities are “balanced.” That is a value judgment that is in no way dependent on absolute funding amounts.

    Scientists seem to want to define any cut in their programs as “unbalanced” and any increase as “balanced.” If this were widely accepted, the nation would not be able to prioritize projects, which I think everyone would agree would not be a good thing.

    The Administration, and to a lesser degree Congress, have given human spaceflight a higher priority than it has had in the recent past. I happen to agree with that higher priority, and I think (in a clear minority in this venue) that too much is spent on automated reconnaissance relative to preparing to send geologists to the moon and planets. You, obviously, believe otherwise. But, claiming that anything other than what you define as “balanced” is “a farce” is itself a farce.

    – Donald

  • HBV

    Donald:

    The complaint had little to do with the “automated reconaissance” to the moon and beyond. It has to do with the inadequacy of the Earth sciences and global warming programs, which seem to have taken about a 30 percent cut. There have been several reports on this over the last year, including (I believe) from the National Academies. They describe a possible crisis within a few years.

    This is irresponsible. It is counter to Bush’s own pledge to mount a vigorous research program in lieue of putting into place meaningful carbon curbs. We need to understand how the climate is changing more than ever, and Bush is gradually blinding us.

  • Donald F. Robertson

    HBV: the inadequacy of the Earth sciences and global warming programs . . . is irresponsible.

    Put this way, I fully agree.

    – Donald

  • anonymous.space

    “Scientists seem to want to define any cut in their programs as ‘unbalanced’ and any increase as ‘balanced.’”

    The “balance” argument can and does get abused regularly when arguments for all sorts of government programs (NASA or otherwise) go forward. I’ve seen it plenty times myself where “me too” whining about one discipline getting a modest increase and another discipline not getting the same increase is barely hidden behind thinly veiled arguments about “balance”.

    But when we’re talking about the level of cuts Griffin has made — 50% reductions in research grants in various disciplines; flight rates dropping from 9-10 missions per year to 2-3 missions per year; whole sets of research targets going unaddressed by any new instruments for a decade or more — the “balance” argument is more than justified. Those kinds of cuts and the impact they have on new data, a research community, and the rate of discovery will absolutely put any research program out of balance.

    I’d also argue that the human space flight program could benefit from a LOT more balance — between innovation, hardware development, and operations; between different research targets; between small and big activities; and between in-house and out-of-house development. Unfortunately, the program has consistently favored one enormous development/operations project, like STS or ISS, to the near-exclusion of everything else.

    “The Administration, and to a lesser degree Congress, have given human spaceflight a higher priority than it has had in the recent past.”

    I realize I’m nitpicking terms here, but the Bush II White House and the (prior Republican) Congress gave human space EXPLORATION (not flight) a higher priority than in the past (just by virtue of providing more than study-level funding for exploration for the first time in decades). Unfortunately, ESAS and subsequent decisions do not necessarily reflect this priority, choosing a new LEO launcher that is not on the critical path for exploration (Ares I) over the development of critical path exploration hardware (Ares V, EDS, LSAM, lunar-capable Orion, etc.).

    “too much is spent on automated reconnaissance relative to preparing to send geologists to the moon and planets”

    To reduce all of space science, even all of planetary science, to “automated reconnaissance” versus “geologists to the moon and planets” is an incredibly narrow and very misguided comparison. The robotic missions do a heckuva lot more than just “automated reconnaissance” and a lot more disciplines are currently involved and will be needed in the future than just “geologists”.

    My 2 cents… FWIW.

  • Donald F. Robertson

    Anonymous: I’d also argue that the human space flight program could benefit from a LOT more balance — between innovation, hardware development, and operations; between different research targets; between small and big activities; and between in-house and out-of-house development. Unfortunately, the program has consistently favored one enormous development/operations project, like STS or ISS, to the near-exclusion of everything else.

    In theory, I’d agree with this. But, what I think the space program needs more than anything else — including data — is more near-term bases to act as markets to pull innovation. I wish it were otherwise, but I think here and now that probably means a small number of big projects at any one time. We’ve spent decades getting information about the Solar System, and, from my point of view, we have very little to show for it since very little of it has been utilized to move humanity into a multi-planet species — which for me is the reason for spaceflight.

    To reduce all of space science, even all of planetary science, to “automated reconnaissance” versus “geologists to the moon and planets” is an incredibly narrow and very misguided comparison. The robotic missions do a heckuva lot more than just “automated reconnaissance” and a lot more disciplines are currently involved and will be needed in the future than just “geologists”.

    As usual, I think we’ll have to agree to disagree about this. I think that you — and, it must be admitted, most people — are quite wrong in this assessment. I may be over-stating my case, but in the big picture, I think it is correct. However, I also have to admit that only history will prove one of us correct.

    – Donald

  • Adrasteia

    But, what I think the space program needs more than anything else — including data — is more near-term bases to act as markets to pull innovation

    It’s a pity that the government space program is being run by a bunch of socialist thugs then. No chance of there being innovation when NASA refuses to buy hardware or launch services from the private sector.

  • Adrasteia

    I might point out that last Democratic President and Congress did no favors for Nasa in terms of budget and forgot about Nasa once the ISS was designed into its current config early in Clinton’s first term.

    I might point out that every time Goldin went in front of a congressional committee he practically screamed at them to cut his budget. This is a man who when asked what he would do with a larger budget said that NASA couldn’t do anything with it, and then when pressed suggested biotechnology.

    Why the hell would either Clinton or the Republican controlled congress give these idiots more funding?

  • anonymous

    “But, what I think the space program needs more than anything else — including data — is more near-term bases to act as markets to pull innovation.”

    “It’s a pity that the government space program is being run by a bunch of socialist thugs then. No chance of there being innovation when NASA refuses to buy hardware or launch services from the private sector.”

    My vote is with Adrastreia on this. I agree that market pull is as critical, if not more so, than technology push. But there’s nothing magical about a space station or a lunar base. NASA’s human space flight programs don’t need to build bases in order to create market pull. NASA’s human space flight programs can create market pull just by pursuing commercial services before resorting to government-designed, -owned, and -operated hardware.

    If anything, waiting for government-designed and -owned hardware to build a base just delays the onset and development of market forces.

    It’s an especially egregious waste of taxpayer dollars when the base itself serves little or no other purpose (as opposed to the terrestrial military outposts and religious missions upon which Mr. Robinson’s historical model is based).

    “As usual, I think we’ll have to agree to disagree about this.”

    Fair enough.

    My 2 cents… FWIW.

  • anonymous

    “upon which Mr. Robinson’s historical model is based”

    Yikes…

    “upon which Mr. ROBERTSON’S historical model is based”

    [smacks forehead]

  • Donald F. Robertson

    Anonymous: I agree that market pull is as critical, if not more so, than technology push. But there’s nothing magical about a space station or a lunar base. NASA’s human space flight programs don’t need to build bases in order to create market pull. NASA’s human space flight programs can create market pull just by pursuing commercial services before resorting to government-designed, -owned, and -operated hardware.

    Huh? What will create the pull? Without a (lunar, asteroid, Phobos) base to run scientific or resource extraction expeditions from, the human project really has no purpose. Why would politicians support “pursuing commercial services” literally to nowhere?

    What the Space Station has done is created a location and a “market” in LEO large enough to support COTS — and I fully agree with you that NASA should be forced to push COTS-like endeavors far more aggressively. Our job, as I see it, is getting NASA to subscribe to that model (which will be hard, since I can’t even get people here to subscribe to it!) and to duplicate it elsewhere at more useful locations.

    I think that bases of some sort are absolutely critical to creating useful markets. If you disagree, yet still see market pull as important, I would love to see your analysis of that market. On this, you might even convince me!

    as opposed to the terrestrial military outposts and religious missions

    What mattered, historically, was that these bases existed, not why they were built. It literally does not matter what the Space Station is used for, only that it has enough ongoing political support to provide a market for COTS-like efforts. While many here and elsewhere don’t like it, it does appear to have the political wherewithall to stay in business. Now, if we can only get NASA to not abandon their only economically useful creation a decade or so after it is finished, and thus destroy the only market that now exists. . . .

    – Donald

  • anonymous

    “Huh? What will create the pull?”

    NASA’s human space flight needs and requirements, which exist in spades with or without a station or a base. The Space Shuttle flew 90-odd missions and hundreds of payloads to LEO before the first ISS assembly flight. Just like the NASA ISS “market” and COTS, some fraction of that NASA LEO “market” could have been directed towards commercial providers. This is especially true after the Challenger accident, when the commercial Atlas and Delta lines were brought back to full strength and NASA had a very strong reason to pursue alternatives or backups to the Shuttle.

    It’s not a question of whether a base exists to create a need. NASA’s human space flight programs have tons of needs without a base. It’s a question of whether NASA’s human space flight programs are willing to change the way that they do business and meet some fraction of those needs via commercial providers.

    A corollary argument is that it’s not the ISS that necessitated COTS. It’s Columbia, and the White House decision to end Shuttle operations by 2010, that necessitated COTS. If Columbia had never happened, NASA’s human space flight programs would have had no impetus to change how they do business. Prior to Columbia, SOMD was strangling the Alternative Access program (the COTS predecessor program) in the crib. ISS would still be serviced by a combination of STS, Soyuz/Progress, ATV, and HTV.

    “I think that bases of some sort are absolutely critical to creating useful markets.”

    Maybe your argument hinges on your definition of “useful markets”. But I would not limit that definition to a government-built, -owned, and -operated base supplied by commercial service providers.

    For example, back in 1982 (20-odd years before Bigelow!), Max Faget (a famous NASA designer) formed Space Industries Inc. (SII) and proposed the Industrial Space Facility (ISF). It would have been a privately-built, -owned, and -operated, man-tended space station with commercial customers (a commercial “base”) that would have been deployed and serviced by the Space Shuttle (a government service provider). You can read about the project’s history here: http://www.astronautix.com/craft/indility.htm. The history is rather fascinating in that White Houses and Congresses as far back as the Reagan Administration have, to lesser or greater degrees of success, fought NASA intransgience to supporting the development of and using commercial capabilities.

    In another example, in the early ’90s, NASA pursued a COMmercial Experiment Transporter (COMET) program that funded the development of a privately-built, -owned, and -operated reentry capsule (which Rutan of all folks was involved in building) for microgravity experiments that launched on a commercial vehicle (the Conestoga launcher). No base, but a clear NASA need (fly microgravity experiments) met by commercial launch vehicles and spacecraft. There are some abstracts on the program here http://ntrs.nasa.gov/search.jsp?N=4294731675. The program died when the Conestoga launcher failed on first flight, and NASA did not follow through on additional launches.

    More recently, about a half-decade ago, NASA signed a multi-hundred million dollar contract with Kistler under the commercial terms of the FAR to conduct a number of technology demonstration flights on NASA’s behalf. No base, not even spacecraft transport, just technology demonstrations under commercial terms on a commercial vehicle. Space-X challenged the contract on competitive grounds with the GAO, and NASA gave up on the effort.

    The point of these examples is that there are plenty of other avenues for NASA’s human space flight programs to accelerate the development of commercial human space flight capabilities, decades before the creation of a space station or base. It’s important that we not get too hung up on one historical model, or we risk passing up other critical opportunities to create “market pull”.

    Even today, NASA should not be allowed to get away with one, underfunded COTS program. Why isn’t NASA using Zero Gravity Corporation’s vomit comets? Where are the commercial suborbital microgravity solicitations that Griffin promised? Now that Orion is light enough to fly on commercially available EELVs, why isn’t NASA using those launch vehicles? Why isn’t NASA soliciting commercial demonstrations of in-space propellant provisioning? Why isn’t NASA soliciting or offering prizes for commercial robotic demonstrations of resource extraction on the Moon?

    Why wait for a lunar base 20 years from now (if then) for any of this to happen? Why get wrapped around the axle of an historical model that ignores all the important activities that NASA could be doing now and only perpetuates the all-government approach for a couple more decades?

    My 2 cents… FWIW.

  • Donald F. Robertson

    Anonymous: The Space Shuttle flew 90-odd missions and hundreds of payloads to LEO before the first ISS assembly flight.

    True, but as many have correctly pointed out, most of this was make work to keep the Shuttle program alive until the Space Station was ready to be launched. Without the promise of the Station at the end of the road, the Shuttle could have been killed politically at any time. A Space Station — a place, a base with all its romantic connotations is much more politically difficult to kill.

    ISS would still be serviced by a combination of STS, Soyuz/Progress, ATV, and HTV.

    Maybe, but probably not. Reality was bound to catch up with the Shuttle program, sooner or later. There was no way that the Shuttle could support the Space Station over the long term; in fact, we were fortunate that the Shuttle lasted as long as it did and got the Station far enough along that it was politically impossible to kill. The real crime was continuing to use the Shuttle to build out the Station, rather than using the Station as was or using EELVs to finish construction. Rebuilt, or even new, modules would have cost far less than we’ve spent continuing to fly the Shuttle, post-Columbia.

    I was around for ISS and COMET, and I agree that NASA should have (better) supported both projects. That didn’t happen. We’ve had a combination of events that forced NASA to support COTS. Now, if we want it to continue, or if we want the political conditions to caugh up something COTS-like again, we have to make COTS or something similar succeed. More funding would be beyond nice, but the survival of the Space Station, and the expansion of other markets, is the key. Congress is not going to let the Space Station die, and commercial supply is the only economically and politically realistic way to keep it alive, so I expect (hope for) it to happen. More and larger markets would impove its chances. . . .

    It sounds to me like we are violently agreeing on our basic argument, that government’s job is to create markets to pull commercial development of launch vehicles. I don’t really care what those markets are, although, for historic reasons, I still strongly suspect that it requires permanent infrastructure — that is, “bases.”

    Space-X challenged the contract on competitive grounds with the GAO, and NASA gave up on the effort.

    I blame SpaceX for this, not NASA.

    there are plenty of other avenues for NASA’s human space flight programs to accelerate the development of commercial human space flight capabilities, decades before the creation of a space station or base.

    But the key point is that none of these happened. The political and financial conditions required to force NASA and, more importantly, the wider nation, to make that happen were not in place until there was a base requiring supply. When that base existed, lo and behold, the political stars lined up and COTS happened, albeit vastly underfunded. The latter problem is a lot more likely to be fixed than it was when there was no COTS and NASA could still pretend that the Space Shuttle could supply the Station.

    Even today, NASA should not be allowed to get away with one, underfunded COTS program.

    Agreed, and likewise your other examples. But, the program exists, probably over NASA’s opposition, and if it doesn’t succeed some other way will have to be found to support the Space Station. That’s a lot better off than we’ve been before.

    Why wait for a lunar base 20 years from now (if then) for any of this to happen?

    We shouldn’t. But, nor should we go for another model when the one model proven to get us somewhere is again available to us. I think a critical problem with the space community is over-expections overly-soon. Having it happen twenty years in the future is a lot better than it not happening at all — which may well be the alternative.

    – Donald

  • Why isn’t NASA using Zero Gravity Corporation’s vomit comets?

    Zero Gravity Corporation doesn’t have any “vomit comets.” Only NASA does. Zero G has parabolic flight services, on which it is rare that anyone gets sick.

  • Monte Davis

    I think a critical problem with the space community is over-expections overly-soon.

    Repeat morning and evening for fifty years, and we may get somewhere. This is a community addicted to “firsts” since the lunge into space of 1957-1969. It has been very reluctant to see that learning to do affordably and routinely what we can already do is qualitatively different, quantitatively harder, but ultimately much more productive than the next Big Mission or Big Project.

  • Donald F. Robertson

    Monte, I fully agree with you, except that I think the economic and political wherewithall to achieve affordable and routine access (via COTS or something like it) is dependent on existing bases like the Space Station. The market must come first, before people invest grandma’s money. If we want relatively cheap and relatively easy access to the moon, first, it’s going to take a lot longer than any of us think, and second, a lunar base will be in place first using whatever (expensive) technology is available at the time we decide to do that and follow through.

    – Donald

  • anonymous.space

    “Without the promise of the Station at the end of the road, the Shuttle could have been killed politically at any time.”

    I’m not defending the STS design or program, but this statement is untrue for a couple reasons. Absent a second accident like Columbia and even without ISS, STS would fly until the airframes were obsolescent because of political interest in STS as a:

    1) Highly visible symbol of national power, and

    2) Massive jobs program in Texas, Florida, Alabama, and (to a lesser extent) California and Utah.

    “A Space Station — a place, a base with all its romantic connotations is much more politically difficult to kill.”

    It’s unclear (at least to me) what “romantic connotations” have to do with rationalizing billions of dollars in spending (for a space program or anything else) in the political world. We’re talking about justifying a space program to the White House and Congress, not to the National Space Society.

    “More funding would be beyond nice, but the survival of the Space Station, and the expansion of other markets, is the key.”

    I disagree. A NASA human space flight “market” — the need to send civil astronauts somewhere in space along with their equipment and supplies — exists regardless of whether that somewhere is LEO, ISS, a Lagrange point, the Moon, Phobos, Mars, or Titan.

    The key is how NASA goes about satisfying that “market” need — government-designed, built, and operated systems versus commercial services.

    Consonant with Mr. Davis’s point about “Big Projects” versus actual progress, I would argue that at some level that the “survival” (or pursuit) of big, government space bases in the Apollo model does more to retard NASA’s evolution towards commercial business practices than it does to accelerate the development of commercial space capabilities. Big, government space bases take decades to complete before the first commercial service procurements can be let, leave few dollars on the table for those service procurements, give government competitors a long head start on the commercial firms, and lock in government-unique systems and requirements without regard to the capabilities of commercial vendors.

    I don’t totally disagree with your historical model. But I would make pretty dramatic changes to it to adjust to (and counteract) the realities of how space systems are developed and of how NASA has (unfortunately) learned to do business in the modern day.

    “But the key point is that none of these happened. The political and financial conditions required to force NASA and, more importantly, the wider nation, to make that happen were not in place until there was a base requiring supply.”

    But what’s common and different in the history of ISF, COMET, Kistler, and COTS doesn’t prove this out. In each case, NASA had a clear, driving need or “market”, whether it was microgravity research, technology validation, or astronaut resupply.

    What was different about COTS was Columbia and the 2010 STS retirement deadline — that NASA’s internal, government means of meeting that need or “market” failed and that the agency had little choice but to reach out to commercial services (and international partners) to fulfill it.

    In the case of ISF, COMET, and Kistler, NASA could still (and did) meet those needs and “markets” through other, internal, government means — in those cases, the agency still had a choice and eventually chose the government option each time when the going got marginally tough on the commercial option. (And that may still happen with COTS and Orion.)

    “The real crime was continuing to use the Shuttle to build out the Station, rather than using the Station as was or using EELVs to finish construction. Rebuilt, or even new, modules would have cost far less than we’ve spent continuing to fly the Shuttle, post-Columbia.”

    Agreed. Good points.

    “Having it happen twenty years in the future is a lot better than it not happening at all”

    I think those two states are one and the same. We can set aside all the real-world problems with NASA’s implementation of the VSE that are likely to kill off the human lunar return effort. But even in an ideal world where NASA wasn’t spending ten billion dollars and a limited political window reinventing the medium-lift wheel with an underpowered NASA-only launcher, hoping that another Columbia-like event forces NASA to turn to commercial services after 20 years of designing and building a lunar base with government-owned and -operated entities is just that — hope.

    The probability that a future lunar base becomes a useful market goes way up if NASA’s culture changes now and the commercial sector is involved from the get-go. NASA should plan for commercial capabilities upfront and use them throughout the process, not make them an afterthought at the end of the process.

    “Zero Gravity Corporation doesn’t have any “vomit comets.” Only NASA does. Zero G has parabolic flight services, on which it is rare that anyone gets sick.”

    I stand rightfully corrected.

    My 2 cents… FWIW.

  • Monte Davis

    Donald: I’ll be happy to start thinking seriously about a lunar base as a generator of market “pull” when I’ve seen more sustained progress towards larger markets in LEO and lower costs for getting there.

    Like you, I see the shortcomings of ISS not as a second, discrete black mark against NASA, but as a predictable consequence of telling ourselves pretty stories about STS. We declared “mission accomplished” by labeling STS operational after four (!) flights, then doubled down by starting to plan a station as if the Shuttle were the robust CATS hoped for in 1972. Most of the delays, downscoping and overruns since 1984 are traceable directly or indirectly to that collective delusion.

  • Donald/Anon –

    Unfortunately, the existence of a real live base does not force NASA to express its needs in a market-friendly way, i.e. by purchasing commercial services. Indeed, the Alternate Access to Station program Anon spoke of was originally all about BUYING services, until NASA turned it into a technology development/demonstration program.

    Likewise, instead of buying ISS cargo delivery after Columbia, NASA turned a budget for ISS Transport into the COTS technology/capability demonstration program, which in turn favored new launch vehicles vs. actually buying services today with existing launch vehicles.

    The result of these decisions is that NASA is buying services… just from the Russians, using Russian launch vehicles, through 2011.

    In a perfect world, one would force NASA to monetize the “value” of a person year on the Moon, and then sign take-or-pay contracts, using expedited appropriations authority (similar to that used for commercial launch indemnification), for astronaut years on the Moon. But all that does is fund results, not effort. (Effort = jobs today, Results = something emphemeral later)

    Since almost nobody is lobbying their Congressman for the result of Americans on the Moon doing research or industrial development or whatever, but there are some people lobbying Congress to build rockets and spaceships (Ares 1 and Orion 1) which might one day be upgraded to support the delivery of NASA astronauts ot the surface of the Moon, guess which one Congress is focused on?

    I honestly hope that this can be fixed. I have already been to this party once in my career (Freedom/ISS), and certainly read enough history about the previous engineering juggernaut (STS), and I am afraid that NASA’s human spaceflight enterprise cannot survive a failure to return to true exploration. This is their last shot.

    – Jim

  • COTSadvocate

    ROBERTSON: Huh? Without a (lunar, asteroid, Phobos) base to run scientific or resource extraction expeditions from, the human project really has no purpose. Why would politicians support “pursuing commercial services” literally to nowhere?

    Mr. Robertson,

    Your theory is nice … but then, in practice, NASA would go and buy those services from some foreign country, or (more likely yet) cut some barter deal, instead of buying from U.S. commercial providers.

    - COTS advocate

  • anonymous

    “Indeed, the Alternate Access to Station program Anon spoke of was originally all about BUYING services, until NASA turned it into a technology development/demonstration program.

    Likewise, instead of buying ISS cargo delivery after Columbia, NASA turned a budget for ISS Transport into the COTS technology/capability demonstration program, which in turn favored new launch vehicles vs. actually buying services today with existing launch vehicles.

    The result of these decisions is that NASA is buying services… just from the Russians, using Russian launch vehicles, through 2011.”

    Good points by Mr. Muncy. Unless and until NASA lets contracts for COTS Phase II (or something like it), we actually have no proof yet that NASA’s human space flight programs are capable of purchasing commercial services.

    “In a perfect world, one would force NASA to monetize the “value” of a person year on the Moon, and then sign take-or-pay contracts, using expedited appropriations authority (similar to that used for commercial launch indemnification), for astronaut years on the Moon.”

    I understand the take-or-pay contract that would ensure some minimum payment even if NASA chose not to purchase the private astronaut’s time 15 years from now. But I don’t recognize the term “expedited appropriations authority”. Is this authority binding on the Congress/federal government in a way that would legally get around anti-deficiency?

    It’s certainly is fascinating to consider what could be if some few billions of dollars out of a $100 billion human lunar return effort were shaved off for such private sector incentives.

    “there are some people lobbying Congress to build rockets and spaceships (Ares 1 and Orion 1) which might one day be upgraded to support the delivery of NASA astronauts ot the surface of the Moon”

    This to me is the saddest thing emerging out of the Griffin years — that innumerable and very damaging sacrifices were made by nearly all of NASA’s programs to fund a couple duplicative and oversized vehicles that increasingly appear incapable of actually supporting the lunar architecture. It’s one thing to sacrifice for an effort that is technically competent and highly capable of achieving its goals. It’s another thing to sacrifice for an effort that is technically compromised and incapable of achieving its goals without even greater and more damaging sacrifices.

    “I am afraid that NASA’s human spaceflight enterprise cannot survive a failure to return to true exploration. This is their last shot.”

    I hope Mr. Muncy is right — that as a result of throwing away the rare political opportunity afforded by the VSE, NASA’s human space flight programs undergo radical, top-to-bottom, structural changes during the next Presidency or two. But my gut tells me that absent another Columbia-like tragedy or a real external challenge (like a much accelerated Chinese human space flight program), the next couple or even few decades could easily be a repeat of the past few. As long as NASA can fly the America flag in LEO and keep dollars flowing to key states, there is no great incentive to fix NASA’s human space flight programs and get actual and sustainable human space exploration underway.

    My 2 cents… FWIW.

  • HBV

    K.C. seems to think most of the fault likes with NASA PAO and not NASA actual policies. His take on the global warming controversy:

    “I have to wonder NASA hasn’t hammered back on this topic. Oh wait, I already know why. Every time something like his [sic] pops up – and NASA sits on its hands – the critics are emboldened when the next chance to slap the agency emerges (usually a week later)….”

    Mmmm….maybe the administration and the NASA leadership don’t want to mount a vigorous defense. It might explain the 30 percent cut in the Earth sciences budget, the efforts to censor and intimidate NASA climate scientists, and the fact that the agency’s administrator openly talks about how climate change is really not much to worry about.

    It’s hard for PAO to mount much of a defense when it has no high level support. Even if they did, critics would simply point out how the administration and NASA don’t take the problem very seriously. The problems lie at much higher levels.

  • Ray

    Anonymous: “absent another Columbia-like tragedy or a real external challenge (like a much accelerated Chinese human space flight program), the next couple or even few decades could easily be a repeat of the past few. As long as NASA can fly the America flag in LEO and keep dollars flowing to key states, there is no great incentive to fix NASA’s human space flight programs and get actual and sustainable human space exploration underway.”

    There are real external challenges that should provide this great incentive, but, in spite of the VSE’s original focus on “security, economics, and science”, the decision-makers don’t appear to get the point that the human space flight program should be a part of addressing these challenges. ESAS looks a lot like a money channeling device, since even if it works as planned it won’t reach the Moon for 15 years, and in its present form would, like its predecessors, be too cumbersome and expensive to be more than Apollo on steroids so weak a Tour de France drug test wouldn’t catch it.

    The real external challenge is not a much accelerated Chinese human space flight program. There are many real external challenges, such as:

    - accelerated Chinese military and economic power growth without corresponding political reform
    - the War on Terror
    - environmental change
    - avoidance of disasters (terrorist, natural, or other)
    - recovery from such disasters when avoidance fails
    - energy independence
    - economic competitiveness
    - the spread of WMDs and ballistic missile technology

    It’s fairly obvious how the robotic parts of the VSE, and robotic missions cancelled because of the Shuttle flyout and ESAS parts of the VSE, relate to these sample real external challenges. These robotic missions either encourage improvements in, or enable shared cost-sharing for, the rocket and satellite technologies used by military, commercial, and science satellites that already attempt to directly address aspects of most of these challenges.

    ESAS’s failure of imagination is that it does little to address current important national challenges. Any possible payoff from ESAS is in some speculative and fantastic far-off lunar future. As Anonymous would probably say, there are all sorts of alternate implementations of the VSE (e.g.: based mainly on EELVs, incentives for new commercial rockets, robotic exploration, in-space refueling, or even commercializing ESAS and letting it sink or swim in an expanded COTS competition) that would either improve or share costs with the rocket and satellite technologies used now to address significant challenges, and therefore contribute to addressing these challenges. Other approaches could change the VSE itself to directly address one or more significant national challenges.

    If it doesn’t address one or more significant, well-recognized national challenges like these in the near term, I suspect support for the VSE will be luke-warm at best.

  • Paul Dietz

    The real external challenge is not a much accelerated Chinese human space flight program. There are many real external challenges, such as:

    (list of terrestrial challenges omitted)

    So, let us not again hear complaints about people who think we need to deal with problems (excuse me, ‘challenges’) on Earth rather than doing pointless (i.e., unrelated to Earth) things in space.

    Or maybe only liberals who say that are to be complained about. I need to check my cheatsheet.

  • HBV

    Climate change is everyone’s problem.

    Putting people on the moon could eventually help us deal with terrestrial challenges. However, it’s so expensive that it’s draining money out of much cheaper programs that could directly address the problem. It’s a very expensive way of addressing serious problems at some point down the road.

  • Paul,

    you miss the key point that Ray made.

    >>>If it doesn’t address one or more significant, well-recognized national challenges like these in the near term, I suspect support for the VSE will be luke-warm at best.

    Ray is not saying that the space program must solve poverty or poor schools. He is saying that a federal space policy and investment strategy must be seen as relevant to the problems people care about or it wouldn’t get long-term broad support. (We aren’t talking about something really narrow and “indirectly” funded like tax loophole XYZ or sugar price supports… we’re talking about a visible $17B program that is, by its own sales pitch, “out of this world”.)

    * * *

    I would respectfully request everyone ask themselves two separate and distinct questions. Answer them independently, in any order you want.

    1) As a prelude, add any “really important problems” you think are missing from the list of challenges Ray laid out. Then ask yourself this question: given that people care about BIG PROBLEMS, why should the American people care about a VSE that does not deliver results on ANY of those problems.

    2) Taking the broad outlines of the VSE as a start, and Ray’s list of challenges as the metric of success, design an implementation strategy for the VSE that maximizes the chance of a high score (adding up the progress across all the challenges). Does your strategy look anything like ESAS?

    - Jim

  • Keith Cowing

    Jim Muncy makes some very cogent points. So long as NASA’s avowed core reason for existence (right now it is VSE) and its hardware manifestation, ESAS’ architecture, has no tangible connection with NASA’s ultimate stakeholders’ view of what ‘big problems” are, it runs the risk of cancellation when the Administration changes. What does going to the Moon solve? Right now, based on NASA rhetoric and PR spin, I can’t see what it solves.

  • al Fansome

    Ray, Mr. Muncy and Mr. Cowing have nailed the point.

    Let me expand on it. We all seem to have forgotten two speeches, which explain everything.

    The White House (and Congress) has previously and specifically stated three “measurables” for grading the value of any NASA implementation plan for the VSE.

    The White House Director of OSTP made a major speech on this exact topic. If this NASA Administrator seriously cared about what our elected leaders wanted, he would have taken Dr. Marburger’s speech on 20 March 2006 to heart. (44th Robert Goddard Memorial Symposium).

    http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewsr.html?pid=19999

    “As I see it, questions about the vision boil down to whether we want to incorporate the Solar System in our economic sphere, or not. Our national policy, declared by President Bush and endorsed by Congress last December in the NASA authorization act, affirms that, “The fundamental goal of this vision is to advance U.S. scientific, security, and economic interests through a robust space exploration program.”

    I am still waiting for Griffin (or NASA) to explain how Griffin’s chosen ESAS approach “advances U.S. scientific, security, and economic interests”.

    But this is not going to happen. Why? Griffin has already explained this.

    Not only Griffin has ignored those stated White House measureables, but in hindsight it can be seen that Griffin gave a speech that explicitly criticized the attempt by elected stakeholders to impose their chosen “value measures” on NASA. (“Space Exploration: Real Reasons and Acceptable Reasons”, 19 Jan 2007, Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership).

    Specifically:

    The Acceptable Reasons – economic benefit, scientific discovery, national
    security – are, in fact, completely correct. But they comprise a derived rationale, and are not the truly compelling reasons.

    In hindsight, and in the context of asking that NASA deliver the three (3) stated benefits, it is clear that this a rejection by Griffin.

    GRIFFIN POINT: National security is NOT a truly compelling reason?

    I think our national leaders, who are writing huge checks for national security, would disagree with Dr. Griffin.

    GRIFFIN POINT: Economic benefit is NOT a truly compelling reason?

    I think our national leaders, who are giving major funding increases to the programs which are linked to the American Competitiveness Act, would beg to disagree with Dr. Griffin.

    In fact, many policy experts have made a clear & compelling case that, historically, all sustainable major exploration initiatives have been justified on either FEAR (national security) or GREED (economic benefits). Apollo was “fear/national security”. Columbus was “greed/economics”.

    This is an opportunity for somebody to lay out a case where this is not true.

    In today’s political environment, after national security, health care, and the environment, a stronger economy is perhaps the number one priority among the American people.

    Yet Griffin does not consider economic benefits to be a *compelling* issue.

    In conclusion, Ray, Mr. Muncy and Mr. Cowing are completely correct.

    And the explanation is sitting right in front of us.

    - Al

  • canttellya

    Mr. Muncy and Mr. Cowing are completely correct.

    What needs to be appreciated at this point, and I think IS appreciated by many of the posters on this site, is that there is no fundamental problem with the VSE as described by the President.

    The failure is the ESAS implementation of the VSE, which fails because it really isn’t an implementation, it is a corruption of the basic principles and values of the VSE.

    National security.

    Economic expansion and opportunity.

    No where in this list is “continued indefinite government support of current space contracts through rigidly defined architectures” which is the only goal ESAS is accomplishing.

    We need a new NASA administration that’s ready to implement the VSE as it was given, not to change it into something politically palatable. My vote is for Gen. Worden. He understands the importance of planetary defense (national security) and will not mock NASA’s role in this important activity as Griffin has.

  • Donald F. Robertson

    Keith: What does going to the Moon solve?

    From our point of view, going to the moon (in the sense of establishing a lunar base or outpost) solves one key problem: it creates a political and / or economic market for deep space transportation, a clear prerequisite for doing much of anything else.

    Our job, as I see it, is to tie that to the wider goals of the nation. I think where you and Jim have it right is that this is a very difficult thing to do. I’ve taken a few stabs at, e.g., my Space News article The Oxygen Road, where I argued that, given two-way transportation to and from the moon, the oxygen requirement in Earth orbit (the Space Station, propulsion for latter-generation application satellites, and so on) provide an economic and logistics problem for the lunar base to solve. While I believe that will become important in the long term, I freely admit it’s a stretch in the short term. While just about everyone here disagrees with me, I actually think I’m on firmer ground with the human requirement for space field science, but I won’t go into that again now.

    I think the key problem we, as advocates of near-term human expansion into the Solar System, need to solve is: one way or another, most of us here want a lunar (or Mars or asteroid or orbital or somewhere) base as a start toward more permanent human activities in the inner Solar System. How do we justify that in terms of immediate needs on Earth. It’s a tough nut to crack, but if we want to avoid cancellation when the Administration changes, we must find some convincing (which means some real-world) way to make this connection.

    – Donald

  • Keith Cowing

    Donald:

    Go outside on the street grab 10 people (taxpayers, stakeholders, etc.) at random on the street. Repeat what you just wrote to them. Watch as their eyes glaze over. Then ask them for some money to pay for it. Watch them walk away.

  • Dave Salt

    al Fansome wrote:
    “Ray, Mr. Muncy and Mr. Cowing have nailed the point.”

    Unfortunately, this situation strikes me as the equivalent of the police having all the evidence needed to convict a criminal but, for some unfathomable reason, the injured party is either unwilling or just not interested enough to press charges.

    So, on the assumption that the White House is fully aware of the situation, maybe the key to getting things changed is figuring out why it chooses to ignore it.

  • So, on the assumption that the White House is fully aware of the situation, maybe the key to getting things changed is figuring out why it chooses to ignore it.

    Because they have many more important things to worry about. This administration has made all the major space policy decisions that it’s going to, barring some emergency (e.g., another Shuttle loss). It came up with the VSE, and it hired Mike Griffin to implement it. It’s not an important enough issue to them to now micromanage it, particularly given that there will be no significant results from it during this administration, regardless.

    The people in the White House responsible for formulating the new policy (e.g., Brett Alexander) are largely gone. The administration has moved on to other things. Don’t expect any significant change until late 2009, if then.

  • Donald F. Robertson

    Kieth: Go outside on the street grab 10 people (taxpayers, stakeholders, etc.) at random on the street. Repeat what you just wrote to them. Watch as their eyes glaze over. Then ask them for some money to pay for it. Watch them walk away.

    Of course, I agree. But I was writing to us, not to ten random taxpayers. To quote myself: this is a very difficult thing to do, and I also admit that my stabs at this so far are not very convincing. That said, how about something constructive — you’ve restated the problem, not the solution — what would you say to your ten random taxpayers to get them to voluntarily pay for the VSE.

    (Note, though, that “taxpayers” are not our only audience — we are also trying to convince politicians, “captains of industry,” scientists, military officers, stockholders in large aerospace companies, and all the other stakeholders and potential stakeholders in this endeavor.)

    Also, I believe that Rand is entirely correct in his statement. This Administration gave the space community their chance and the opportunity to do with it what we will. Politically, whatever happens now, for better or (probably) worse, happens on autopilot.

    – Donald

  • al Fansome

    ROBERTSON: this is a very difficult thing to do, and I also admit that my stabs at this so far are not very convincing. That said, how about something constructive — you’ve restated the problem, not the solution — what would you say to your ten random taxpayers to get them to voluntarily pay for the VSE.

    Donald,

    It really is not that difficult.

    In fact, I have written in detail about a win-win-win solution for this exact issue — on this site. The proposed solution delivers “national security, economic, and scientific” benefits that our elected leaders are asking for, while also opening up the space frontier to exploration, development and settlement.

    I guess my writing is pretty weak, as you don’t seem to recall what I have previously written. But just in case anybody is really interested in something “to be for” that is a win-win-win solution to this problem, see my previous postings at:

    http://www.spacepolitics.com/2007/07/20/spaceplanes-vs-lunar-footprints/

    http://www.spacepolitics.com/2007/03/09/a-congressional-asat-discussion/

    http://www.spacepolitics.com/2007/05/17/stumping-for-griffin/

    http://www.spacepolitics.com/2007/04/17/bipartisan-nonsupport-and-big-targets/

    http://www.spacepolitics.com/2006/11/27/mars-or-bust/

    FWIW,

    - Al

  • Donald F. Robertson

    Al, every one of your list of “dreams” in the final link starts with “invest heavily in.” That’s a statement of the problem — getting people to invest in the dream of the moment — not a statement of the solution — a convincing argument of why should they invest grandma’s money heavily in X-set of projects. I still suspect anything in today’s environment that starts with “invest heavily in” is a non-starter. Especially after spending thirty years investing heavily in “cheap access to orbit” projects that went nowhere, politicians want quick results based on the technology we already have, hense the political success so far of VSE. As ESAS (as very much opposed to the VSE) pushes results ever farther into the future, we’ll see political support evaporate.

    I think the solution will be a lot closer to Anonymous’ (and my) return to a EELV-based architecture or something similar, rather than your “invest heavily in” new technology.

    – Donald

  • anonymous

    The last 11 posts are a very good and important discussion. From the day ESAS was rolled out, there have been large, unaddressed disconnects between the policy direction in the VSE and the program implementation in ESAS/ESMD/Constellation. Even if Ares I/Orion was not so technically and budgetarily compromised, these disconnects would still bring into question the national relevance and political sustainability of an ESAS human lunar return effort. There’s not much I would add to Mr. Muncy, Mr. Cowing, cantellya, Mr. Fansome, and Mr. Simberg’s posts.

    The one key point I would make is that on top of these policy/program disconnects, Ares I/Orion (and Constellation overall) are technically and budgetarily compromised. NASA’s human space flight programs are going to have substantial credibility issues with the new White House when staffers realize in January 2009 that NASA, despite the clear direction in the VSE to get humans back to the Moon, has spent the past half-decade (VSE was rolled out in January 2004) and almost $10 billion for a couple of vehicles that will:

    – Duplicate (poorly) the lift capabilities of existing military/commercial launch vehicles.

    – Require at least another $10 billion to complete.

    – Inflict at least a half-decade gap on U.S. civil human space flight and leave U.S. access to ISS in the hands of foreign partners and an underfunded commercial effort.

    – Not be capable of supporting NASA’s lunar architecture due to unsafe performance/mass margins and will have to be substantially redesigned and redeveloped at some unknown additional cost and time to bring that lunar architecture into being.

    – Even then, still require the development of a heavy lifter, earth-departure stage, and lander — none of which has been started — to actually land a few astronauts on the Moon sometime during the tenure of the next President.

    This credibility gap is going to get really bad if NASA’s human space flight programs are asking to extend STS operations beyond 2010 to complete ISS. The credibility gap will become untenable if private efforts like Bigelow or Space-X are also up and flying.

    Before NASA can have a discussion with the new White House about how relevant (or not) their human space flight programs are to the nation, whether the VSE should be continued, and what changes in implementation need to be made to ESAS, NASA’s human space flight programs are going to have to prove to the next White House that they can just do what they say they’re going to do. Right now, based on all of the above, it doesn’t look like NASA’s human space flight programs will have any credibility to spare when January 2009 rolls around. When that shoe drops, the easiest thing for the next White House to do will be to give NASA just enough money to get off STS, finish any outstanding foreign commitments on ISS, complete the ISS-capable Ares I/Orion, and then cancel the rest of the VSE/ESAS and use that money elsewhere.

    I do not envy the job of the next NASA Administrator — for human space flight, he or she will probably be little more than an Orion/ISS caretaker.

    That said, in the event that the next White House just doesn’t take the easy path out of this mess, Mr. Muncy’s challenge is a good one. If we criticize, then we should also offer alternatives. Time allowing, I’ll take my best stab at an alternative (within the limits of this forum) and post back here.

    My 2 cents… FWIW.

  • anonymous

    “I think the solution will be a lot closer to Anonymous’ (and my) return to a EELV-based architecture or something similar, rather than your “invest heavily in” new technology.”

    Just to be clear, although I think an EELV/small CEV approach is superior to Ares I/Orion, I do not pretend to know whether it is the BEST option to replace Ares I/Orion. I think strong cases can also be made for an all-heavy lift approach (like DIRECT 2/Jupiter 120), for an expanded COTS approach (in which EELV might compete), or for some combination of two or three of these options. Deep, independent analysis and competition (the kind that was never undertaken in ESAS) is needed to ferret out the optimal solution.

    I’d also point out that Mr. Fansome’s propellent depot-centric approach and Mr. Robertson’s EELV-centric approach are not mutually exclusive. Given the high costs and difficulties of evolving EELVs to the kind of heavy lift necessary to support a lunar or Mars architecture in the absence of propellant depots, they may even be co-dependent over the long-run.

    My 2 cents… FWIW.

  • Donald F. Robertson

    Anonymous: Just to clarify myself, I’ve agreed with Mr. Fansome’s propellent depot approach before, at least as a good option — something like it would be necessary to support lunar oxygen use in Earth orbit and the kinds of very small vehicles that I prefer for the immediate future. It’s his argument for increased investment in new transportation technology before there is a market for it that I find dubious.

    – Donald

  • Well, I’m glad I stirred up the discussion.

    Thanks to Keith, Al, Donald, Anon, CTY, etc for their kind words.

    I would defend Mike Griffin’s speech comments a little bit, in that by “economic benefit” or “national security” he was probably talking about what PASSES FOR “benefits” in the normal rhetoric of the NASA.

    Mike also probably would argue that an Ares 1/5 transportation architecture preserves the U.S.’ ability to make new ICBMs and SLBMs (i.e. the large-scale solid rocket industrial base), and therefore contributes to national security that way.

    But Mike’s “real reasons” are, in effect, all about exploring for exploring’s sake, in the way we have explored in space before. That devolves to a strategy of rebuilding the ability of a [articular U.S. governmental agency to do what he (and most people, including some of us on this blog) believe ONLY a U.S. government agency can do, and that is send humans beyond Earth orbit.

    Since I agree that exploration (the kind I want as well as the kind NASA did in the 1960s) will happen faster with USG help/leadership, I won’t question the value of rebuilding NASA’s exploration capabilities here.

    What I question, what really bothers me, is this unstated acceptance of the idea that exploration is too hard to “make relevant”. Donald touched on this when he said:

    Our job, as I see it, is to tie that to the wider goals of the nation.
    I think where you and Jim have it right is that this is a very difficult
    thing to do.

    In one way it is hard, in that it requires giving up our assumptions about how whomever does exploration. But once you do that, it’s actually quite easy to make exploration serve the broader body politic.

    For example, if you took Steidle’s approach to the humans-to-LEO segment of the humans-beyond-GEO market, and aggressively pursued multiple commercial approaches that could acheive $5m/person prices, then you wouldn’t have to “human rate” your CEV launcher. Just that would save billions. And create an ability to fly not one but dozens of teachers a year to LEO for a fraction of NASA’s education budget.

    Tell me that wouldn’t mean something to school parents.

    But then you have to give up the idea that Moon or Mars-bound astronauts ride on a NASA rocket to LEO, and you add another “rendezvous” (i.e. element of mission complexity) to the lunar architecture.

    My generic point here is that all too often, in the pursuit of what people honestly believe is the only/best path for successful exploration, everything quickly devolves to institutionally-motivated priorities which are indeed IMPOSSIBLE to sell to a broad public constituency and its concerns.

    Put in Peter Drucker’s language, it’s easy to market space exploration if you’re willing to change what it is you’re doing to fit with customer wants and needs, but it’s really hard to sell the “new and improved” Apollo (“now on Steroids”) to people with other legitimate priorities.

    Well, end of rant. I have a plane to catch back to the lower 48.

    - Jim

  • Correction to the above: the 3rd graph got truncated. I meant
    “…the NASA advocacy community.”

  • al Fansome

    DONALD: Anonymous: Just to clarify myself, I’ve agreed with Mr. Fansome’s propellent depot approach before, at least as a good option — something like it would be necessary to support lunar oxygen use in Earth orbit and the kinds of very small vehicles that I prefer for the immediate future. It’s his argument for increased investment in new transportation technology before there is a market for it that I find dubious.

    Donald,

    I think you miss one of my points. You can sustainably execute this strategy without any significant increases in NASA’s budget. So I am not sure why you find it dubious.

    NASA’s ESMD has a multi-billion dollar annual budget. The existing ESMD budget that is going to the Scotty rocket, in fact, should be divied up between “RLV investments”, “COTS like investments in more/cheaper commercial launch solutions”, “COTS like investments in propellant depot(s)”, and “lunar infrastructure investments (ISRU, lunar lander)”. You go as you pay. Of course, certain budget items will have higher priority. Propellant depot funding may take priority over RLV investment, since the depot is the central point of the architecture.

    Next, politically, RLV investment is MUCH easier to sell than building the duplicative Scotty rocket. Beyond eliminating wasteful duplication (an easy political benefit), other benefits of the approach are an obvious large impact on national security (it needs to be obvious for politicians … you talk about Chinese ASATs … and then you say “NASA is part of the solution to this national security problem”), and a large impact on commercial space development. Politicians want to buy both national security and “economic/competitiveness” benefits — in fact, if you look at the ORS effort … which is being driven by Congress down the DOD’s throat — you see clear indications that this is what Congress wants to buy.

    As has been mentioned, we implement a LEO propellant depot strategy, we can also immediately use EELV’s and any new low-cost U.S. LVs that arrive (e.g., Falcon IX). The approach is not dependent on RLVs showing up by some certain date.

    Our international partners can immediately contribute, by launching propellant to the depot on their domestic LVs. It is inherently international.

    Again, this ALL can be done within the EXISTING NASA budget.

    SUMMARY: It is much easier to sell this approach, since it is intentionally designed to give our elected leaders more of what they are asking for.

    - Al

  • Ray

    HBV: “Climate change is everyone’s problem.”

    Jim Muncy: “2) Taking the broad outlines of the VSE as a start, and Ray’s list of challenges as the metric of success, design an implementation strategy for the VSE that maximizes the chance of a high score (adding up the progress across all the challenges). Does your strategy look anything like ESAS?”

    I’ll give this an amateur’s shot using HBV’s environmental damage as an example “Big Problem” that concerns a broad swath of the public. This example may be over-focused on 1 “Big Problem”; if NASA can show the VSE contributing something significant in the next few years (not 2020+) to solving any number of other well-recognized “Big Problems”, it will be in much better shape. To get a general idea, I’ll use very gross guestimates of $4B per year available in lieu of ESAS and related efforts during the rest of Shuttle’s career, and $4B more per year available upon Shuttle retirement. Chalk up any overestimates I may have made in the ESAS/Shuttle budgets to additional funds available because of additional public support. I’ll also note that the VSE isn’t supposed to be simply returning humans to the moon — it’s that, plus completing ISS, retiring the Shuttle, robotic lunar missions, and other robotic missions, all in the context of security, economics, and science.

    Yearly Changes Before Shuttle Retirement:

    ~$500M – Supplement NASA’s Earth Observations with more satellites and science analysis. Consider data purchases from U.S. commercial vendors or deploying instruments on commercial satellites (e.g.: Iridium). Launch with EELVs or new commercial launchers. Consider smallsats. Retire risk for operational environmental satellite programs (eg: NOAA/DOD NPOESS or follow-on programs).

    ~$500M – Supplement NASA’s existing robotic planetary science and “Sun-Earth” missions. Emphasize planetary missions with high “comparative planetology” (with Earth) relevance.

    ~$1B – Supplement existing COTS ISS Cargo, and start COTS ISS Crew transport. With $1B/year, 3 competitors could be funded at ~$300M/year, with ~$100M going to a pot to reward any U.S. entities (COTS-funded or not) that meet the requirements, including crew safety. This should justify significant matching commercial investment. Shuttle-derived and EELV concepts would be eligible to compete. Shuttle technology would be completely retired from NASA in 2010 but eligible to be transitioned to commercial use. My unprovable personal opinion: at less development cost, this would result in earlier, cheaper to maintain, and more robust ISS cargo and crew transport than ESAS, and could even result in a thriving, more efficient post-Shuttle workforce getting the benefits of commercial launch business. After successes, funds go to operational ISS transport.

    ~$500M – Supplement ISS with additional Earth observation instruments. Purchase time for Earth observations on commercial space stations or commercial ISS add-on modules. Develop improved closed-loop life support systems and other “dual use” technologies relevant to both space stations/habitats and Earth’s biosphere. Develop a small demo solar power satellite (eg: to power other space vehicles or mobile emergency power applications on Earth).

    ~$500M – Purchase Earth observation time on suborbital rockets. This could include remote sensing, atmospheric sampling, and delivery of UAV-mounted instruments. Existing rockets and various New Space suborbital systems would be considered. Develop appropriate instruments and integrate into vehicles. Offer Centennial Challenges to increase performance of suborbital vehicles (i.e. altitude, payload, lower vibrations, etc, as needed by the Earth observations). Test space EO instruments on suborbital rockets. Reward the best Earth Science or Environmental Engineering teachers with suborbital rides so they get a chance to literally see what they’re working for.

    ~$500M – Supplement NASA Aeronautics with work on cleaner-burning jet engines, more efficient air traffic management (less circling airports), long-duration solar-power aircraft for Earth monitoring, and the like.

    ~$500M – Start lunar parts parts of VSE with robotics. Include lunar exploration and Earth observation from the Moon and/or Earth/Moon L1. Develop VSE advocate community of lunar scientists and lunar Earth-observation scientists. See pages 84-98 of NASA Advisory Council Workshop on “Science Associated with the Lunar Exploration Architecture” on ideas for Earth environment monitoring from the Moon or lunar orbit:

    http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/oer/nac/reccommendations/Recommend-5-07.pdf

    After Shuttle retirement:

    ~$4B – Supplement any of the above that show promise, yet need more money. When COTS 1 success is in sight, begin what I’ll call COTS Phase 3 (lunar cargo transport). When COTS 2 success is in sight, begin what I’ll call COTS Phase 4 (minimal lunar crew transport).

    The public interested in the environment would view the (broadly-defined) VSE favorably. NASA would likely be rewarded with better budgets and more interesting work. Big aerospace and NewSpace would both benefit from numerous opportunities to efficiently direct their efforts to both NASA and commercial business at the same time. The healthier commercial space business that should result would be better for the overall workforce, and if the relevant companies embrace the commercial opportunities, potentially beneficial even to the Shuttle workforce.

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