NASA

Griffin: China will beat US to the Moon

Earlier today NASA administrator Mike Griffin gave a luncheon speech in Washington to talk about the “space economy”,
a concept part of the agency’s new strategic communications plan. His most noteworthy comment, though, came near the end of the Q&A session after his talk, when he was asked about the potential for cooperation and competition with other emerging space powers, including (but not limited to) China:

I personally believe that China will be back on the Moon before we are. I think when that happens, Americans will not like it, but they will just have to not like it. I think we will see, as we have seen with China’s introductory manned space flights so far, we will see again that nations look up to other nations that appear to be at the top of the technical pyramid, and they want to do deals with those nations. It’s one of the things that made us the world’s greatest economic power. So I think we’ll be reinstructed in that lesson in the coming years and I hope that Americans will take that instruction positively and react to it by investing in those things that are the leading edge of what’s possible.

It wasn’t explicitly clear from his comments whether he was referring to robotic or human exploration of the Moon, but most people in the room appeared to interpret it as referring to human lunar missions.

Update Tuesday 12:30 pm: Griffin told Aerospace Daily that he indeed was referring to human lunar exploration in his comments, particularly if China elects not to develop a heavy-lift vehicle: “If one is willing to make use of multiple Earth-orbit rendezvous, a really big rocket is not required,” he told Aerospace Daily in an email. “It’s pretty cumbersome, but it can be done.”

49 comments to Griffin: China will beat US to the Moon

  • As long as we are constrained to the current ESAS plan I would have to agree with Mike Griffin.

    There are fortunately better ways to out do China, or any other nation, in terms of time frame and capability by using what we have more efficiently. Starting with reversing recommendations that duplicate what can be purchased today (Ares-I vs. EELV) and require the destruction of the current Space Shuttle infrastructure (Ares-V vs. Ares-II/III).

    Those who have given up have already failed. It’s clearly time for new leadership if Mike believes what he just said. To suggest that a program that plans to out spend China by more than 10 to 1 can’t beat their space program hands down practically defines the word pathetic.

    I appreciate the fact that enemies of the Vision for Space Exploration will perpetually use both real and imaginary problems against us. They will always be critical regardless of what we do or achieve over the next fifty years, at any price. Switching from ESAS to DIRECT at this point will also draw more than a few cheap shots at the NASA workforce even as it solves some very significant problems with ESAS.

    In the end though, success is the best way to silence critics of the Vision for Space Exploration “not hoping for the best”. Nothing swells the ranks of the critics like unqualified failure. Anytime you can solve a large number of real problems at the expense of generating a few imaginary ones for the critics chew on you should do it.

    “Do we want to go to the moon or not?”
    John C. Houbolt – November 15, 1961
    Question posed in Letter to Dr. Robert C. Seamans Jr, NASA Associate Administrator

  • anonymous.space

    I don’t have much to add to Mr. Metschan’s critique of Griffin’s China comments as they relate to the architecture and vehicle decisions Griffin has made. I agree. It’s very hypocritical of Griffin to, with one face, wring his hands about China, and then with the other face, waste ten or so billion dollars, several years, and precious political capital on a duplicative, intermediate-lift, ETO launch vehicle that’s not even powerful enough to support the lunar architecture he selected. The VSE funding shortfalls created by the Congress and White House are a fraction of the dollars being wasted on Ares I and other poorly thought out ESAS requirements.

    What really puzzles me, though, is what evidence leads Griffin to believe that China will put a man on the Moon before NASA gets back there. Unless Griffin has no faith in his own plans anymore, he must still think NASA has a good shot at making it back by 2020. And unlike the U.S. and NASA, there is no funded Chinese plan to return to the Moon in their ten-year funding plan. And even the mostly unfunded plan that does exist assumes a human landing no earlier than 2030. Here’s a relevant quote from astronautix.com, taken from a Chinese aerospace magazine:

    “By July 2001 a Chinese aerospace magazine indicated that Chinese scientists had drafted a much more modest four-phase long term plan.

    Phase 1, by 2005: Lunar flyby or orbiting satellite missions, perhaps using the DFH-3 bus.

    Phase 2, by 2010: unmanned soft-landing missions.

    Phase 3, by 2020: Robotic exploration using surface rovers.

    Phase 4, by 2030: Lunar sample return missions.

    Only after 2030 would manned flights and construction of a lunar base begin.”

    Full article at http://www.astronautix.com/craft/chirbase.htm.

    I’d note that even this plan is behind schedule, as China has yet to launch the 2005 lunar orbiter mentioned above. (Even Japan beat them to that punch this past week.)

    Does Griffin now think ESAS can’t get NASA astronauts back to the Moon before 2030? Or does Griffin know something about China’s plans, funding, and progress that the rest of the world doesn’t? Or is Griffin just engaging in hyperbole, rhetoric, and scare-mongering to shore up support for NASA’s human space flight programs?

    Perplexing…

  • My initial reaction is that might actually be a good thing. It could either spur the US into a more aggressive stance on space exploration (read: Mars) or it could tank us into a dormant, irrelevant player.

    I hope it’s choice A. :)

    Selfishly, I just want SOMEONE to land on the moon or get serious about Mars. I think it’s important for us, as humans to continue exploring space.

    So far, with their recent launch- isn’t Japan winning the race? :)

  • Donald F. Robertson

    Jesse: Selfishly, I just want SOMEONE to land on the moon or get serious about Mars. I think it’s important for us, as humans to continue exploring space.

    That’s not selfish at all; it’s what humanity needs to have an extended future, and certainly if we want one as exciting as the adventure of colonizing the globe we’ve enjoyed ever since the last ice age. I agree that this is more important than any individual nation (re)achieving lunar travel alone. I’ve often felt that humanity might have been better off if the Soviets had won the lunar race, or at least been more competitive, so that, conceivably if improbably, it would not have been quite so easy for us to abandon the Apollo-Saturn transportation system.

    — Donald

  • I think that Mr. Griffin is being very pragmatic with regards to the underlying message, that countries look up to those that seem to be technologically in advance of others, defining the avant garde. Countries want to buy the best technology to advance their own nation’s interests. The U.S. has the best tech…well, maybe except for cell phones, nuke plants, railroads, automobiles, … We do have mighty fine agriculture, though, and the best unenforced regulations in the world.

    Even in rocket tech we don’t have a clear-cut advantage. The advantage that we do have is the nascent ‘industries of space’. We are the fount of that knowledge, but not without contenders. The U.S. is pretty top-notch in materials sciences, and we need to extend that into tomorrow as well.

    With regards to Mr. Griffin’s statements apropos the possibilities of China getting back to the Moon before us. He is very ambiguous in the phrasing, so it could be parsed either robotic or humans touching dirt. I think the robotic likelihood is significant, likely in excess of 80%. I say this because, as far as I know, LRO is the only reconnaissance craft we have in the pipeline. China has publicly stated plans, but I have no doubt that there are many things we don’t know about their program,and are unlikely to know until such time as the Chinese decide to let us know.

    On the human side, he may be right also. ESAS isn’t the answer, and I think even Mr. Griffin realizes the bill of goods he was sold by Doc Horowitz is largely empty promises and unattainable results, despite his desires to the contrary. He is of course handcuffed in place and can do little about what is happening, and I think that is frustrating him to no end (well, plus all of the internet sniping as well ;-).

    My personal read of the situation is that Mr. Griffin was presented by behind-the-scenes power-brokers to the President as a ready-made solution, along with Safe/ Simple/Soon, to the VSE woes resulting from O’Keefe’s abrupt departure (“for family reasons”). Some kind of Faustian bargain was struck, of that I have no doubt. Mr. Griffin cannot leave his position without affecting that bargain, but the unintended consequence of cognitive dissonance from the bill of goods he is being forced to sell to the taxpaying public is probably frustrating him enormously and, in my opinion, leading to some of the comments that folks are picking up on.

    Of course, he’s probably not used to having his every syllable dissected for meaning like a Greenspan congressional talk either. But hey, it goes with the job.

  • Ray

    Wow, Dr. Griffin really set himself up with that one, as I’m sure Jeff noticed. If he thinks, as his comments seem to indicate, that there’s some kind of race on, and the consequences of it are serious, then why does he have NASA working on such a slow lunar space transportation plan? Why not cut back on the ESAS requirements, and just try for 2 crew members with only modest non-essential cargo to the Moon at a time? That should make the job a lot easier.

    Alternately, why not scrap ESAS, and pump up the COTS program to let the commercial space companies try for the business? Have it cover ISS cargo, ISS crew, lunar cargo, lunar crew, and in-space transportation. Include NASA satellite and probe launches as potential markets, although there’s no requirement that competitors address that capability since EELVs already exist. At the same time, with so many possibly non-compatible jobs, have it include more than 2 competitors (probably a truly privatized Shuttle-derived competitor for politics if nothing else – and I’m sure they’d make a great competitor if unleashed to actually have the chance to make real money – and an EELV-based competitor, plus SpaceX, and maybe more competitors). I’m sure SOMEBODY would come up with a much quicker solution to each transportation problem if some of those tens of $billions, and potential for all that NASA business plus commercial/other government business, were waved in front of them.

    I don’t see anything wrong with changing direction when a plan doesn’t work out, or causes bigger problems than it solves. I doubt that the media would, either, if the advantages of the change are pointed out.

    Getting back to the speech, if the space economy is important, as Dr. Griffin says in the speech (see the link), why does he have NASA working on a plan that cuts back on all of the other activities that feed into the space, and general, economies? Here’s an excerpt from the speech:

    “We see the transformative effects of the space economy all around us through numerous technologies and life-saving capabilities,” Griffin said. “We see the space economy in the lives saved when advanced breast cancer screening catches tumors in time for treatment, or when a heart defibrillator restores the proper rhythm of a patient’s heart. We see it when GPS, the Global Positioning System developed by the Air Force for military applications, helps guide a traveler to his or her destination. We see it when weather satellites warn us of coming hurricanes, or when satellites provide information critical to understanding our environment and the effects of climate change. We see it when we use an ATM or pay for gas at the pump with an immediate electronic response via satellite. Technologies developed for exploring space are being used to increase crop yields and to search for good fishing regions at sea.”

    That’s all true, but none of these economically-important space technologies have anything to do with building a NASA-designed and operated space transportation system based on *OLD* rockets over the next 14 years!

    There’s a much better argument to be had by saying that this kind of economically-important space technology, if it comes from NASA at all, comes from NASA ISS research, improvements in satellite technologies and instruments from NASA satellite and probe work, and NASA purchases of launch vehicles that are also used for non-NASA purposes. However, this is the kind of NASA activity that’s being cut back by ESAS! (Yes, they point to Shuttle overruns as the cause, but those are par for the course for that earlier NASA-designed and operated space transportation system – ESAS is the new start that’s really causing the lion’s share of the new budget problems).

  • anonymous.space

    “He is very ambiguous in the phrasing, so it could be parsed either robotic or humans touching dirt. I think the robotic likelihood is significant, likely in excess of 80%. I say this because, as far as I know, LRO is the only reconnaissance craft we have in the pipeline.”

    Possible. Given Griffin’s focus on human space flight, I doubt that’s what he was referencing. But there’s little doubt that China’s planned and funded 2012 rover will beat NASA’s Robotic Lunar Exploration Program (RLEP) back to the Moon’s surface since everything has been terminated after the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and it’s LCROSS crash-lander. Here’s hoping an American team wins the Google Lunar X PRIZE…

    See the following People’s Daily article for the reference to the rover:

    http://english.people.com.cn/200411/08/eng20041108_163090.html

    Also note, consistent with the earlier astronautix.com reference, that China’s lunar program will “focus on unmanned probing” until “2020 or a period later”. The development of human lunar exploration systems in China remains out beyond the timeframe (2020) when NASA is suppossed to be conducting its first human lunar return mission… unless Griffin no longer has any confidence in that schedule.

    “none of these economically-important space technologies have anything to do with building a NASA-designed and operated space transportation system”

    Agreed. The “space economy” focus of the new NASA PR is way off.

    Even setting aside wasteful spending on Ares I, the development of the most beneficial elements of the “space economy” — comsats, weather satellites, GPS — had nothing to do with human space flight or exploration (or even NASA in the case of GPS). It’s an argument to kill human space flight (not support it) and redirect those dollars towards satellite applications!

    And if we really wanted better instruments for breast cancer detection (which came out of the Hubble program) or better heart defibrillators (the one benefit Griffin references that actually came out of human space flight), then we’d just spend millions more on developing better medical instruments and devices, not billions more on space telescopes and manned space vehicles and missions.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against human space flight or exploration. But it has to be supported on the basis of the unique role it plays and the unique benefits it provides. Misappropriating the benefits of other space programs or relying on spinoffs that could have been developed through conventional research programs leads to weak, limp justifications that any half-twit lobbyist looking for an easy source of funding can blow holes in.

  • richardb

    I give Mr. Griffin credit for answering the question Why does the American people need Nasa? He wrapped Nasa in the cloth of the Space Economy and how leadership can be a catalyst to partnerships with the other advanced scientific and technical countries. China came up. I think his answer was spot on target and I think he meant China beating the US to the moon with a manned program. After all, would many care if a Chinese robot beat the US back to the moon? When we have them rolling around Mars? China is showing surprising and persistent capabilities in space. Given China’s secrecy I take no interest in their propaganda and public docs on their intentions in space. They still claim to spend $36 billion on defense. See http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/6416633.stm, clearly a nonsensical sum. So why believe them on space, an area vital to Chinese ambitions? Lets not forget that up to the day they blew up a satellite with an ASAT, they were preaching a treaty to ban weapons in space.

  • Yes Griffin was referring to human missions. After his visit to China last year, Griffin said that the Chinese were where the US was with the Gemini program, and four years later the US was on the Moon. China lacks a heavy lift vehicle and that will take several years to develop, however with US plans currently looking at 2019 for the next lunar landing that gives China plenty of time to get there. With just that one sentence in response to a question, Griffin has given Congress a very strong reason to fully fund Constellation and RTTM.

  • MarkWhittington

    The interesting thing I note about the responses here is the lack of, “The Chinese beating us to the Moon? Griffin is nuts! Those godless commies couldn’t put an ant on the Moon not to mention a human!” Glad to know that it is at last acknowledged that China could and likely will put humans on the Moon in the fullness of time, maybe before we do.

    Of course I have to be ammused at some of the suggestions about what to do about it. Let’s see, acknowledging that China getting to the Moon first, we need to immediately scrap out own return to the Moon program and begin a decades long argument over how best to return to the Moon in the politically correct way. Yes, I can see how that would work very well.

  • mikea

    Umm, how can China get back on the moon before us, when China has never been to the moon at all???

    Perfect example of the sort of political hyperbole that people just bithely accept without giving a moments thought.

    We went to the moon in 1969, we built the shuttle, we put manned space stations into space, all the while China couldn’t launch a rocket that didn’t have a fuse coming out the bottom.

    When we do return to the moon, we while have the benefit of all our extensive experience. China will not. China is taking its first baby steps into space, we’ve been running there for a while. Apples and oranges.

  • David

    Why are we worrying about China going to the moon? Who really cares? We can’t fix the problems we have here on earth, much less try to explore space. Let’s quit wasting tax payer money on space and start developing ways to protect the earth and improve the environment. And don’t tell me we can find better things in space that will help us here on earth. If you can tell me how we can do that without spending billions of dollars then I will listen. Otherwise, it’s a waste of tax payer money to worry about the moon, Mars or any other planet.

  • anonymous.space

    “China is showing surprising and persistent capabilities in space. Given China’s secrecy I take no interest in their propaganda and public docs on their intentions in space.”

    Theoretically, China could have a super-secret human lunar program, and the close association between China’s space program and military certainly doesn’t lower the possibility. But the physical realities associated with erecting and testing heavy lift launch vehicles (and their engines), testing Earth reentry from lunar trajectories, testing lunar landers, etc. means its very hard, if not impossible, to hide a human lunar program. If there is a Chinese human lunar program, there should be several highly visible activities and warnings. But there’s not, and the absence of such would seem to confirm what their plans have repeatedly stated — that China’s lunar program is limited to robots through 2020 and they’ll only consider starting a human lunar program sometime afterwards, with the earliest such mission occuring out in the 2030 timeframe.

    “Lets not forget that up to the day they blew up a satellite with an ASAT, they were preaching a treaty to ban weapons in space.”

    I’d just note that it’s much easier to keep a small ASAT upper stage a secret, especially when it’s launching on an existing mobile ICBM, than it is to hide a Saturn V-class test program. (And even then, U.S. intelligence was apparently aware of the pending mobile ICBM launch and knew that the ICBM had been modified.)

    “Griffin said that the Chinese were where the US was with the Gemini program, and four years later the US was on the Moon.”

    That’s a misleading and disingenuous statement at best from Griffin as Apollo development was ongoing (actually peaking) in parallel with the 1965-66 Gemini flights. Apollo did not begin after Gemini; Apollo began in 1961.

    An accurate statement would be if the Chinese decided to start a human lunar program today, as the U.S. did in 1961, they could theoretically achieve in human lunar landing in eight years, as the U.S. did by 1969, especially if China allocated a comparable level of resources to the effort.

    But again, China has not made such a decision and does not plan to do so until the post-2020 timeframe. Moreover, China has committed to a space station program — a time-consuming “detour” that Apollo did not have to deal with.

    “Let’s see, acknowledging that China getting to the Moon first, we need to immediately scrap out own return to the Moon program and begin a decades long argument over how best to return to the Moon in the politically correct way.”

    It has nothing to do with political correctness. It has everything to do with whether the vehicles currently being pursued can support the chosen lunar architecture (the last indications are that they cannot) and whether they are affordable within politically realizable timeframes (they are arguably not).

    The problem is that Griffin actually did choose the “politically correct” answer that maximized Shuttle reuse (at least initially) and kept full employment at all ten NASA field centers. Griffin arguably sacrificed technical and budgetary viability in the name of political correctness so he didn’t have to deal with jobs and politics.

    I agree that we shouldn’t care whether U.S. astronauts go back to the Moon on a rocket or a flying saucer as long as it works and can be fielded rapidly within the resources available in the NASA human space flight budget. But those were not the only, or even the most important, criteria used to select the architecture and vehicles that what we’re currently pursuing.

    I’d also note that a “decades long argument” to pick an alternative was never in the cards. It would be a year, at the outside, and such studies and competitions could go on in parallel with Ares I/Orion work. The time wasted redesigning Ares I once, and now likely a second time, has easily exceeded a year, not to mention the doubling of the gap to five years (an increase of three years).

    Months spent thinking through the right solution, rather than jumping to a conclusion in 60 days as ESAS did, are well worth it when they save a program years of redesign and schedule delays down the road.

    My 2 cents… FWIW.

  • Iceman4766

    The US would have to spend billions of dollars and many years to create another lander module and train astronauts to operate it, in order to get to the moon.

    The Chinese could stand on each others’ shoulders.

    I say let’s spend the money and set up a permanent base on the moon. We can start by getting rid of Welfare and other life-sucking government-sponsored “social improvement” programs…

  • Mike Arbuthnot

    I asked 10 neighbors if they cared whether or not we returned to the moon. Not did they care if China made it there ahead of us, and to a man no one really gives a crap about going anywhere except to the doctor, the dentist, a ball game now and then and once in a great while out to eat. Get Real! Our future isn’t out in space, it’s right here on terra firma and Earth needs to be cared for first. We need to stop protecting the few thousand jobs involved in space travel and spend the money on roads, bridges, care for the unfortunate and down trodden.

  • This Griffin quote might look pretty funny if there is private tourist flight to the Moon before China or NASA go back.

  • Donald F. Robertson

    Anonymous: I’d just note that it’s much easier to keep a small ASAT upper stage a secret, especially when it’s launching on an existing mobile ICBM, than it is to hide a Saturn V-class test program.

    While not defending a China-to-the-moon race — for which I agree there is not a shred of evidence — I’m not sure this statement follows. Aren’t both of us arguing for at least serious reconsideration of an EELV-based lunar architecture? Wouldn’t a Long March-based architecture be rather easier to hide than a Saturn-V class arcitecture? Just because we do it with gigantic rockets doesn’t mean everyone will, and China probably has more tolerance for risk than we do.

    Also, I am not sure why almost everyone here says they are surprised at the speed of Chinese developments. They were the second nation on Earth to develop high-energy LOX/H2 rockets, beating out both Europe and (by far) the Russians. The early leader of their space program was trained in the United States. (I’m not sure of this and I don’t have time to look it up right now, but my recollection is that he was a senior manager at JPL and that he was driven out of the United States in one of our periodic purges of people we don’t like.)

    — Donald

  • David Stever

    “”Umm, how can China get back on the moon before us, when China has never been to the moon at all???

    Perfect example of the sort of political hyperbole that people just blithely accept without giving a moments thought.””

    I think that in the broader sense, ‘our’ return to the moon would be in terms of the human race returning to the moon. In that sense, China returning to the moon is them beating us in this second round, and not them returning to claim the fellow who was blasted there by fireworks centuries ago to claim his ravaged body.

    I like Mark Whittington’s notion that if China does get there before us, that we should disavow that we ever *meant* to go, much like the Soviets did back in 1969 when we got there before they could. That would be very appropriate in this political climate.

    I hope that Griffin’s calculatedly off-hand remarks do what they were meant to do- get us to spend enough money to get us back to the lunar surface, and quick enough to shorten up the gap. I just wish we weren’t wasting our money on the Ares vehicles. LM could have a capsule quick enough to get us there by 2015 on an Atlas V heavy, but not enough jobs are ‘saved’ by that method.

  • richardb

    anonymous.space “But there’s not, and the absence of such would seem to confirm what their plans have repeatedly stated — that China’s lunar program is limited to robots through 2020 and they’ll only consider starting a human lunar program sometime afterwards, with the earliest such mission occuring out in the 2030 timeframe.”
    You are very sure of Chinese intentions when few others are. Do you have personal contacts inside their bureaucracy? Government sources? Relying on their public docs is as comforting as sitting on a stool with balsa legs.
    We have many examples, not just Dr. Griffin’s comments yesterday, of lack of transparency in Chinese government deliberations. The military complains frequently about it.
    I don’t know their intentions with space exploration and if I had responsibility I would focus on our plans. I’ve rarely seen Dr. Griffin comment about the Chinese, his remarks yesterday stand out.

  • anonymous.space

    “Wouldn’t a Long March-based architecture be rather easier to hide than a Saturn-V class arcitecture?”

    Yes, in terms of big booster and engine testing, or the lack thereof. But the in-space rendezvous/docking/fueling tests will be a pretty good tip-off (note that China has yet to do rendezvous/docking except of the destructive kind, forget fueling), not to mention the parallel processing of multiple Long March LVs (which are considerably bigger than China’s mobile ICBMs). And they’ll still have to test Earth reentry from a lunar trajectory and test their lander.

    Not that my opinion matters one whit, but I find the Griffin quote in Mr. Foust’s update from Aerospace Daily incredibly frustrating:

    “’If one is willing to make use of multiple Earth-orbit rendezvous, a really big rocket is not required,’ he [Griffin] told Aerospace Daily in an email.”

    If Griffin is really, truly worried about losing to China, then he needs to switch an expedient architecture and set of vehicles, of the very kind he implies that the Chinese could pursue. But if not, Griffin should stop using missile gap-like scare tactics that are sorely lacking in truth and facts to prop up the enormously expensive and time-consuming architecture and vehicle choices he has made.

    If we’re going to race China to the Moon, then we need an architecture and set of vehicles that’s actually capable of winning the race. If we’re going to stick with the ESAS architecture and Ares I/Orion vehicles we’ve got, then Griffin needs to find a different justification, one that is consistent with the slow-boat approach those choices represent.

    Arrrggghhh…

  • anonymous.space

    “You are very sure of Chinese intentions when few others are.”

    To be clear, I’m not absolutely certain. There’s no way I can be. That’s why I wrote:

    “Theoretically, China could have a super-secret human lunar program, and the close association between China’s space program and military certainly doesn’t lower the possibility.”

    But as I noted in two earlier posts, if China was secretly pursuing a human lunar program, there are unavoidable and highly visible tests and other development milestones associated with any human lunar program that we should be seeing.

    But we’re not seeing those tests and milestones.

    I’ll readily admit that absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence. But I don’t see how the complete absence of heavy lift development/testing, heavy lift engine development/testing, in-space rendezvous/docking tests, in-space fueling tests (if no heavy lift), Earth reentry from lunar trajectory development/tests, and human lunar lander tests leads to any other conclusion than China is not currently pursuing a human lunar program.

    “Do you have personal contacts inside their bureaucracy? Government sources?”

    No, although I have worked for a couple months with counterparts in the Chinese space sector, I don’t claim to have such sources. I’m merely noting what we should be seeing, if China was pursuing a human lunar program. We’re not seeing that, so I’m drawing the obvious conclusion, regardless of sources.

    “Relying on their public docs is as comforting as sitting on a stool with balsa legs.”

    I’m not relying on China’s public pronouncements. Again, I’m merely noting what we should be seeing, if China was pursuing a human lunar program. We’re not seeing that, so I’m drawing the obvious conclusion, regardless of sources.

    It just so happens that the conclusion is consistent with China’s public space plans, which repeatedly state that Chinese lunar exploration is confined to robots through 2020, and only after that will China make a decision about pursuing a human lunar program. If they do make such a choice, the earliest planning date for a human lunar landing in Chinese documents is 2030.

    China could be totally lying in those documents and actually pursuing a human lunar program. But if they were, we would see things like heavy lift development/testing, heavy lift engine development/testing, in-space rendezvous/docking tests, in-space fueling tests (if no heavy lift), Earth reentry from lunar trajectory tests, and human lunar lander tests coming out of China.

    But we don’t.

    “We have many examples, not just Dr. Griffin’s comments yesterday, of lack of transparency in Chinese government deliberations.”

    You lost me there. Are you saying Griffin’s comments are lacking in transparency?

    “I don’t know their intentions with space exploration”

    You don’t have to. Understanding a nation’s intentions are only part of what goes into foreign intelligence. We also have to verify whether those intentions match the nation’s actions (or lack thereof). In the case of China and human lunar exploration, their lack of key actions verifies their stated intentions.

    FWIW…

  • MarkWhittington

    “I like Mark Whittington’s notion that if China does get there before us, that we should disavow that we ever *meant* to go, much like the Soviets did back in 1969 when we got there before they could. That would be very appropriate in this political climate.”

    Huh? I made no such assertion. But I guess that goes along with most of the quality of commentary I find here.

  • CynicalStudent

    anybody posting on this forum that genuinely thinks we should stop funding NASA or “focus on earth” is in the wrong place.

    anybody who honestly believes that ‘welfare’ and other social programs (what, like education?) make up a vast life-sucking majority of our national budget need to turn off the Limbaugh and read something. umm, like our budgets. here’s a starting point: http://nationalpriorities.org/index.php?option=com_frontpage&Itemid=1

    those people should also not be posting here.

    back to the issue. Griffin is probably pissed about the timeline, but i doubt he really believes the Chinese will be there before us. he’s just (smartly) playing up conservative fear strategies which have proven so successful for the presidents administration. we might not like that, but it works doesn’t it? (9/11_9/11_9/11).

    so assuming he actually wants to do something about the timeline, we should all be wondering not why ESAS isnt getting scrapped or changed, since it’s set in stone by now. we should be wondering why COTS isnt being expanded. my guess is because there hasnt been a whole lot of success in that department yet. i’ll hold out judging though until the next X-Prize cup showings.

    somebody said exploration is good, regardless of who does it, because it can help assure humanity is more than just a blip on the radar. damn straight. nationalism is only good for motivating us and progressing; once it becomes a mechanism for inhibiting debate, restricting international cooperation, and naysayer second-guessing, shove it. I love America, but we dont own space, we dont own the moon, and we damn sure dont own the future of our species.

  • Chance

    I think google will beat them both, or at least someone trying out for the google lunar x-prize.

  • “Why not cut back on the ESAS requirements, and just try for 2 crew members with only modest non-essential cargo to the Moon at a time? That should make the job a lot easier.”

    Because it’s not a race this time. We’re going back to stay, and the money spent on getting 2 men there with a smaller rocket would deter us from getting 4 men there with a larger one later on.

  • Al dela Garza

    Why go to the Moon again after all we have been there allready and all we did was to abandon it. What is going to be different this time?
    What I would is to sell all the technology including the used spacecrafts to the Chinese for a good chunk of money and let them tangle with the Moon.
    And let them see how expensive and dangerous it is for such a venture.
    And we can concentrate with all that money in rebuilding the bridges, roads, schools,airports,transpotation etc. Before this country becomes a second rate financial power.

    Al dela Garza Miami,Fl.

  • Ray

    Mark: “The interesting thing I note about the responses here is the lack of, “The Chinese beating us to the Moon? Griffin is nuts! Those godless commies couldn’t put an ant on the Moon not to mention a human!” Glad to know that it is at last acknowledged that China could and likely will put humans on the Moon in the fullness of time, maybe before we do.

    Of course I have to be ammused at some of the suggestions about what to do about it. Let’s see, acknowledging that China getting to the Moon first, we need to immediately scrap out own return to the Moon program and begin a decades long argument over how best to return to the Moon in the politically correct way. Yes, I can see how that would work very well.”

    I agree with anonymous.space about where China probably stands on a human lunar mission. However, Dr. Griffin’s talk indicated he thinks there is a race, and we’ve already lost it, and that will have important consequences. If that’s the case, why is he going with such a difficult architecture – a NASA-only architecture (so there’s noone else pitching in funds, no chance of commercial business to inspire competition, layers of management and accounting to watch the contractors), with the conflicting requirements of transportation to ISS, the Moon, and to some extent Mars in 1 system? Not only that, but why is he making it politically difficult by cancelling science missions? Notice that the political environment has already changed since ESAS was made – Ames and GSFC have more political power in Congress now. Won’t they want some lunar robotics and Earth science missions? Also, why make it a U.S. only system? Personally I favor more, and small, robotics missions, which lend themselves nicely to manageable international cooperation. However, it would be possible to get international partners to work on some part of the lunar transportation architecture that we’re not even working on now, like a launcher-neutral fuel depot … oh, yeah, that’s not in ESAS … but why not ask them to contribute that? Per comments by Dr. Griffin, it could be integrated into ESAS, and would be very useful. If it doesn’t work out, nothing is lost. The point is that Dr. Griffin’s comment about there being a race to the Moon that matters because of the importance of the perception of world leadership in technology, overlooks the fact that there is a big opportunity for international leadership in the lunar part of the VSE, but that opportunity is being lost because ESAS is a NASA-only operation.

    As for switching to an alternative to ESAS, I don’t suggest studying it for decades. The switch could be made on a dime, comparatively speaking. ESAS itself started in 90 days. I’d say half a year would be reasonable. We don’t need a perfect approach – just one that addresses the VSE Objectives: Security, Economics, and Science, in the context of Commercial Space and International Leadership.

    I’ll also note that I recently read (was is Space News? AW&ST? It was hardcopy, and isn’t here) of an ESAS leader (Horowitz?) worrying about ESAS not being funded as expected because of continuing resolutions. His rough rule of thumb was that for every $100M ESAS gets under the expected (very high) budget figures, there will be a slip of 1 month and a 30% cost increase to complete the program. (I’m not sure what the 30% is on – I assume not the whole program’s budget – maybe the delayed $100M). Why corner the country with a deal like that on such a huge, extended program?

    Getting beyond the race to the Moon, though, I’ll suggest that the real competition with China is in areas like economics and the military. These have little to do with the Moon (not inherently, but with a NASA-only architecture like ESAS), and a lot to do with satelllites, operationally responsive space, satellite sensors, cheap and reliable launch vehicles, and space infrastructure. These are the areas being scaled back at NASA in favor of ESAS.

    Me: “Why not cut back on the ESAS requirements, and just try for 2 crew members with only modest non-essential cargo to the Moon at a time? That should make the job a lot easier.”

    Eric: “Because it’s not a race this time. We’re going back to stay, and the money spent on getting 2 men there with a smaller rocket would deter us from getting 4 men there with a larger one later on.”

    The remarks by NASA Administrator Griffin make it sound like he thinks we’re in, or should be in, a race (albeit a race to stay). The thing I wonder about getting 4 people there at a time is why is that a requirement? The important thing is how expensive it is to get the 4 people there (with other similar factors like reliability). Feeding into that expense is the corresponding lost opportunities (for NASA, opportunities to pump up commercial space, opportunities to implement other launch architectures, and other missions passed up). Another side of that coin is the expense of developing the architecture, and the expense once completed to maintain and operate the architecture. Part of the expense is the time (if the schedule holds brilliantly, a decade and a half for ESAS) spent not accomplishing anything.

    My contention is that if they relaxed the requirements, they would find the mission to be much less expensive and time-consuming. I also believe it could be much cheaper to operate, so that getting 4 people to the Moon in 2 missions would be easier than in 1. It could also be done in a way that is useful in and of itself (aside from the Moon mission itself), by using commercial launch services. For example, from a quote from Dr. Griffin in the Update article above:

    “If one is willing to make use of multiple Earth-orbit rendezvous, a really big rocket is not required,”

    and from a Space Review article on Griffin’s talk at the Heinlein Centennial:

    “yes, we are thinking critically about the utility of fuel depots and future architectures both around the Earth and around the Moon because you’re right, in the long run, I mean, I’ve written what we’re attempted to be learned papers on the topic and I mean, being grounded in economics. In the long run, we cannot have a usable and useful space exploration effort throwing everything away on each flight.”

    I think he’s hit on something there. You could get to the Moon faster with this kind of architecture, which bypasses big, expensive launch vehicles. One way to do that is with in-space refueling. Deploy a fuel depot that is compatible with multiple commercial launchers. Launch the rest of your transportation system dry. Let’s suppose it has 2 astronauts. Such a system should be easier than ESAS, and would also be a powerful incentive to commercial space to develop cheap launchers to supply the fuel. From my perspective, the incentive to commercial space could be even more important than the actual lunar missions. It’s incredibly important. Unfortunately, not only is NASA not developing, or giving an incentive for the commercial development of, this infrastructure in ESAS, but it’s not even making prototypes of it!

    Cynical Student: I checked the federal budget chart, and I don’t think it shows what you think it does. It’s mostly income security, Social Security, Medicare, health (Medicaid, etc) education, training, employment, social services, and net interest on those. Whether or not that’s appropriate I won’t discuss in this forum. I wouldn’t try to discourage people from posting, though, unless you’re Jeff in disguise.

    http://www.nationalpriorities.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=281&Itemid=107

    To keep slightly on the space politics topic, look how tiny “other” is, and that includes general science, space, and technology, energy, and all sorts of other programs. A piece of that sliver is what we have to work with, so we’d better not waste it!

  • CynicalStudent

    Ray: there are budget pie charts and graphs to display anyones viewpoint really. although even that one, ‘income security’ represents 13% as opposed to 21% for defense. and that doesnt include supplemental war spending. the picture changes even more dramatically when you start researching discretionary spending. welfare, food stamps, housing assistance, all these programs are dwarfed in comparison to our military spending or assistance to big interests. i dont want to get into all this either, nor do i feel like discouraging people from posting; but if somebody says something inherently ignorant, like ‘let’s stop spending money on space’ or ‘we could fund all our space objectives if we just ignored poor people’ then they should be corrected, encouraged to change their views, and if incapable of doing so, join forums that are more accomodating… http://www.billoreilly.com/

    back to the subject. i remember reading somewhere (maybe Spinoff? that one of the primary issues with trying to launch fuel depots is that the zero-g environment makes it extremely difficult to perform efficient refueling. a significant percentage of the fuel remains in the originating tank. i guess on the lunar surface with 1/3 terra gravity, fluids would flow more naturally, but the question of efficiency would be very important to private contracting, as their profit margin would depend on the fuel/weight launch ratio. but i like the idea of including this practical element into ESAS, and again, i dont understand why Griffin doesnt attempt to expand access into the vision for private companies and internationals.

    no doubt this has been tossed around quite a bit already, but what possibility is there, if any, of ISS involvement in the VSE? will there be any attempt at future ISS expansion using AresV? or prestaging for lunar rendezvous taking place there?

  • Ray

    Here’s more from Dr. Griffin’s speech:

    “To stimulate economic growth, increase our international competitiveness, and create better lives for our citizens, we must stimulate technological innovation. NASA’s own programs accomplish this in one way, but as we have seen, the Space Economy today is much bigger than NASA and becoming more so. But NASA has another role to play, that of an important catalyst for new ideas and new technology by setting extraordinary goals and engaging the imagination and drive of entrepreneurs in the private sector.

    One such effort is our program to enable the creation of new, low-cost commercial space launch capability, using as an anchor market the logistics for the International Space Station. The COTS – for Commercial Orbital Transportation Services – program is intended to demonstrate capabilities to provide low-cost transportation services to orbit for cargo and crew. If this experimental program is successful, NASA will purchase commercial services for delivery of cargo and crew to the ISS. We envision multiple flights per year beginning after 2010.

    Fifty years into the Space Age, the greatest obstacle to the exploration and utilization of our solar system is the very high cost of space transportation. No government effort has yet made a successful attack on this problem. But when we do have it, we will find that commercially viable, low-cost space transportation will be as transformative to the economy as the transition from steam to diesel power, or the achievement of powered flight. It will open up possibilities that now appear impractical, if not outlandish.”

    Clearly he understands the importance and potential of lower-cost space transportation, and also NASA’s role in stimulating technological innovation from private space companies. However, the main NASA space transporation effort, ESAS, doesn’t attempt to pitch in with this difficult, but absolutely essential, challenge. It isn’t about low cost space transportation, or private space, at all.

    The COTS effort is characterized as experimental, which in a sense it is. However, there’s nothing experimental about innovation in private enterprise. The only questions are of the “particular details” type -are they presenting enough of an incentive, in development money when milestones are achieved, and enough solid business at the end of the program, to make the program viable? Is the technology, financial structure, and management of a particular COTS company in a particular moment in history going to work?

    When you compare the Ares/Orion budget to ISS transportation, and the COTS Phase 1 NASA contribution, you’ll notice that the first is about 100 times the second. Yes, there are differences (Ares has more crew per launch, COTS phase 1 is cargo-only, and COTS companies are expected to contribute funds to the effort). However, the disparity is so huge that one wonders how serious the COTS effort is being taken.

    Hopefully they will look at the RpK COTS replacement, whether big aerospace, small aerospace, or a team with both, and make a serious effort to calibrate the available funds with the technical and business challenges the competitor is likely to face, rather than just present whatever is left over after RpK as an incentive.

    CynicalStudent: “i dont understand why Griffin doesnt attempt to expand access into the vision for private companies and internationals.”

    I don’t either. It seems from the outside like there are tons of opportunities. The original VSE emphasized these aspects, so you would think they’d be central to the implementation, rather than side shows. I’d even be happy with side shows if there were a few more of them.

    Even better than COTS, though, would be NASA just plain buying commercial space services. I don’t know how that commercial microgravity procurement is going, though – it might be a good litmus test. I checked the April UP Aerospace manifest, and didn’t see NASA there, but that doesn’t mean they won’t show up there some day.

  • HPV

    Welll….if china really is a threat, then Griffin’s appointment as NASAdmin was likely a death knell for our efforts.

    And with that happy thought, it is time for me to sign off.

  • Thomas Matula

    Hi All,

    Why does this remind me of the Asian policy experts who argued Japan would never be bold enough to attack Pearl Harbor (although both Admiral Halsey and General Mitchell predicted it…) or the defense analysts who wouldn’t believe General Chennault. And look at how even their recent ASAT test stunned space policy experts in Washington. Given that track record I wouldn’t be so smug about Griffin’s statements.

    But time will tell who is right, the policy experts or Dr. Griffin.

  • anonymous.space

    “Why does this remind me of the Asian policy experts who argued Japan would never be bold enough to attack Pearl Harbor (although both Admiral Halsey and General Mitchell predicted it…) or the defense analysts who wouldn’t believe General Chennault.”

    I would caution against conflating acts of war with the peaceful, if competitive, exploration of the Moon. The former threatens American lives and property. The latter does not.

    I’d also argue that we should be much more worried about actual military confrontation with China over, say, Taiwan or South China Seas petroleum. Or infinitely more worried about Chinese missile/nuke proliferation to other, even more dangerous nations and non-state actors.

    Even if there was evidence of an ongoing Chinese human lunar program, to compare civil space exploration achievements to a military sneak attack like Pearl Harbor obscures the real threats and challenges that we face with China.

    “And look at how even their recent ASAT test stunned space policy experts in Washington.”

    Specifically, which “space policy experts in Washington” were “stunned”?

    China failed at a three, earlier ASAT attempts in 2005 and 2006 that were well known within the intelligence and military space communities. Even Wikipedia notes that the the Washington Times and Jane’s Intelligence Review knew about China’s prior tests, down to the exact days that they took place. See the entry for “2007 Chinese Anti-Satellite Missile Test”. If “experts” were even notionally aware of the three prior ASAT tests, it’s hard to see how they could be “stunned” by China’s fourth such test.

    Moreover, the intelligence community, Pentagon, State Department, and White House was aware of China’s preparations for the specific 2007 ASAT test. See the third paragraph in this NY Times article:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/23/washington/23satellite.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&oref=slogin&ref=asia&pagewanted=print&adxnnlx=1177412634-gIokCeqAhuEUTz6obSrvpQ

    Again, it’s hard to see how Washington “experts” would be “stunned” by a test they knew was coming days or weeks ahead of time.

    “Given that track record I wouldn’t be so smug about Griffin’s statements.”

    It’s not a matter of smugness, but a matter of evidence. It’s possible that there may be some late-breaking development regarding China’s space program that Griffin knows about that that the rest of us don’t. But if such a development existed, presumably Griffin would be more specific about it in order to bolster his case. Based on the generalities of his claim and the lack of evidence for a Chinese human lunar program anywhere else, there doesn’t appear to be any factual support for Griffin’s comments.

    FWIW…

  • Thomas Matula

    anonymous.space

    I decided to break my rule about not responding to folks that hide their identity this once as the article you posted attempting to disprove my statement actually supports it.

    From the article YOU posted the link to…

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/23/washington/23satellite.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&oref=slogin&ref=asia&pagewanted=print&adxnnlx=1177412634-gIokCeqAhuEUTz6obSrvpQ

    [[[“There was a shock that the Russians had put a satellite in orbit before us,” Gen. T. Michael Moseley, the Air Force chief of staff, said at a recent conference, “and there’s a similar shock that the Chinese successfully shot down that satellite. It makes space astronomically more dangerous than it was before.”]]]

    Which I believes proves my statement policy experts were stunned by it.

    But then you will probably argue it was only the USAF Chief of Staff making the statement and he doesn’t qualify as one your policy experts…

    Yes, they knew a test was coming, but not that the Chinese would actually destroy a satellite like they did. That was not rational from the U.S. viewpoint.

    Dwayne Day, a Washington space policy insider who also seems to imply that the Chinese didn’t behave in a predictable matter but instead behaved in a way inconsistent with their public statements.

    http://www.armscontrolwonk.com/1360/chinese-asat-test-massive-debris-creation-likely

    [[[If a country is seriously interested in such a treaty, then one would expect that prior to any test they would increase their rhetoric, and then announce a change in their position. Then test.

    The sudden unannounced test makes the treaty position appear to be essentially a ruse, not genuine.]]]

    But then Dwayne is more of a historian so he may also be out of the loop you are in. Still the implementation is that the experts were surprised in how the Chinese proceeded.

    And yes it sounds like the Japanese in 1941, negotiating for peace while sending their battle fleet to make a surprise attack. Yes, some folks saw the possibility and tried to warn the decision makers, but they seemed to ignore it, listening to experts that said there is not evidence of Japan’s carriers were near Pearl Harbor.

    And so why shouldn’t the way they pursue a lunar mission be any different? Waiting until they launch it before announcing their goal. Yes, its not ‘war” and we don’t see space as part of the super power contest anymore and never saw it as “war”, but again you are assuming they also see it the same way. They may well act as illogical in the area of lunar exploration as Dr. Day stated they acted in terms of their ASAT test. And when they do their actions may well be as puzzling to you as they are to Dr. Day.

    And don’t forget, we are also assuming a human lunar landing as human exploration of the moon. Why not a human orbital mission instead? The Shenzhou should be just as capable of being upgraded for a lunar orbital mission as the Soyuz.

    Really, all they need is to develop an upper stage a Shenzhou could dock with and upgrade the Shenzhou itself for a lunar return (assuming its not a capability already designed into it…) and they are ready to go for it.

    But then a landing may not be all that more difficult. A small lander could be propositioned in lunar orbit using current launch systems. You should take a look at some of the plans for minimum lunar landers that were looked at in the U.S. in the 1960’s. It doesn’t take a vehicle the size of the LEM to place one person on the Moon as some of those studies showed and one is enough for a major PR coup, no new heavy lift vehicle needed. Yes, there is more risk, but then again we are looking at it from the U.S. perspective.

    Meanwhile when will the U.S. even have a lunar orbital capability – i.e. a CEV capable of an Apollo 8 style mission?

    So it seems like they are already ahead of the U.S. in this regard. And don’t have that far to go as many policy experts may think.

    So perhaps Dr. Griffin, who has actually been in China and talked to their experts, has a clearer vision that most folks do.

    And Dr. Griffin may well be as frustrated with ESAS as anyone, but may also not have the power we assume he has to change it. Perhaps this is a calculated statement to get those who do to allow him to change how the VSE is implemented by pushing their hot buttons.

  • ColdWater

    Who cares if China goes to the Moon. We did it nearly 40 years ago. I’ll only be impressed if they do something new.

  • anonymous.space

    “I decided to break my rule about not responding to folks that hide their identity”

    Mr. Foust has repeatedly posted notes reminding participants that anonymous comments are welcome here. It’s up to you whether you stick to your personal rules or not, but please don’t criticize posters on the basis that they “hide their identity”. It’s allowed, even encouraged, on this forum.

    “From the article YOU posted the link to”

    Yes, the article which plainly states in the third paragraph:

    “What administration officials did not say is that as the Chinese were preparing to launch their antisatellite weapon, American intelligence agencies had issued reports about the preparations being made at the Songlin test facility. In high-level discussions, senior Bush administration officials debated how to respond and even began to draft a protest, but ultimately decided to say nothing to Beijing until after the test.”

    Again, it’s logically impossible for “space policy experts” or “insiders” to be “stunned” or “surprised” by an ASAT test for which they received multiple intelligence reports beforehand and which they spent time debating, and even drafting protests about, long before the ASAT test actually took place.

    “Which [sic] I believes [sic] proves my statement policy experts were stunned by it.”

    No it doesn’t, for two reasons:

    One, Gen. Mosley is a single person. He is not “experts”, plural.

    Two, with all due respect to Gen. Mosley, his education and experience do not qualify him as a “space policy” expert. In fact, like most Air Force leadership, he has little to no space background, policy or otherwise. See Mosley’s official bio at:

    http://www.af.mil/bios/bio.asp?bioID=6545

    “he doesn’t qualify as one your policy experts”

    You’re the one who uses the term “policy experts”, not me. Please don’t pawn off inaccurate and loose terminology onto me that doesn’t originate with me.

    “Yes, they knew a test was coming, but not that the Chinese would actually destroy a satellite like they did. That was not rational from the U.S. viewpoint.”

    Huh? It’s not rational to assume that repeated tests, regardless of who’s conducting them, will eventually succeed in their objectives? Why would or should we assume a “U.S. viewpoint” that is so irrational, illogical, and lacking in common sense, with respect to China or any other actor?

    “Dwayne Day, a Washington space policy insider”

    With all due respect to Dr. Day, what qualifies him (or anyone else) as an “insider”? His doctorate? Articles in The Space Review? Published articles in German and other aerospace history magazines? Time spent unearthing primary sources in the National Archives and Presidential libraries?

    What specifically are the criteria for this term? How do you know that he’s an “insider”?

    “[[[If a country is seriously interested in such a treaty, then one would expect that prior to any test they would increase their rhetoric, and then announce a change in their position. Then test.

    The sudden unannounced test makes the treaty position appear to be essentially a ruse, not genuine.]]]”

    Contrary to your claim, in this quote, Dr. Day does not state that he was “surprised in how the Chinese proceeded” or he was “stunned”. He does point out that China’s actions, at least from the point-of-view of an outside observer, lack logic. That doesn’t mean that he personally was “surprised” or “stunned”. There’s no indication of his state-of-mind at all in this quote.

    If we’re going to take Dr. Day’s good name in vain, then let’s at least portray his statements correctly.

    “And yes it sounds like the Japanese in 1941, negotiating for peace while sending their battle fleet to make a surprise attack.”

    What are you comparing Pearl Harbor to? SC-19? Or a hypothetical future Chinese human lunar landing?

    If it’s the former, SC-19 was a Chinese ASAT test against a Chinese target. Pearl Harbor was a Japanese surprise attack against a U.S. target. Test versus attack. Chinese target versus U.S. target. The two are not comparable.

    If it’s the latter, a hypothetical future Chinese human lunar landing would be an achievement in peaceful space exploration. Pearl Harbor was an act or war. Exploration versus war. The two are not comparable.

    “you are assuming they also see it the same way.”

    Please don’t tell me what I am or am not “assuming”. You don’t know.

    Moreover, why would Chinese leaders be so irrational, illogical, and lacking common sense as to view their own, hypothetical, future human lunar landing as an act of war?

    “Why not a human orbital mission instead?… Really, all they need is to develop an upper stage a Shenzhou could dock with and upgrade the Shenzhou itself for a lunar return (assuming its not a capability already designed into it…) and they are ready to go for it.”

    No they’re not, not by a long shot. China would still have to:

    1) Test the Earth reentry of that modified Shenzhou from a lunar or lunar-like trajectory;

    2) Develop and test a TLI stage for that modified Shenzhou; and

    3) Develop and test a booster big enough to launch both the Shenzhou and TLI stage; or

    4) Develop and test rendezvous/docking/fueling systems capable of supporting the Shenzhou and TLI stage if they were launched and/or fueled using smaller launchers.

    China doesn’t have any of that, yet. And, aside from rendezvous and docking at their planned space station, there’s no evidence that the Chinese space program is developing or testing such.

    “A small lander could be propositioned in lunar orbit using current launch systems. You should take a look at some of the plans for minimum lunar landers that were looked at in the U.S. in the 1960’s.”

    Ugh… please refrain from using a preachy, condescending tone. I am more than aware of various minimalist lunar architectures. Feel free to reference such, but you don’t need to tell me or anyone else that we “should take a look” at something.

    Moreover, China would still have to test that lander, on top of the other four, highly visible activities listed above that are necessary to field a human lunar misson. Again, China doesn’t have any of that yet, and, aside from rendezvous and docking at their planned space station, there’s no evidence that the Chinese space program is developing or testing such.

    “Meanwhile when will the U.S. even have a lunar orbital capability – i.e. a CEV capable of an Apollo 8 style mission?”

    Unknown. It appears that the current “Block I” Orion will be restricted to LEO capabilities so Ares I has adequate margin to lift it safely. Assuming the next White House lets it go forward, funding for a “Block II” lunar-capable Orion will start at some TBD date.

    “So it seems like they are already ahead of the U.S. in this regard.”

    No they’re not. China doesn’t have a lunar-capable human command module/capsule or service module, either.

    “And don’t have that far to go”

    Again, see the list above of several highly visible developments and tests that China must undertake before fielding a human lunar mission. China doesn’t have any of that yet, and, aside from rendezvous and docking at their planned space station, there’s no evidence that the Chinese space program is developing or testing such.

    “as many policy experts may think.”

    Who are these mysterious “policy experts” you keep referring to? Where are their papers, what are their positions, and what specific statements of theirs are you refuting?

    I’m all for debunking poorly supported or thought out statements from officials. (I’ve arguably been doing such with respect to Griffin’s China statements throughout this thread.) But we have to identify what specifically it is that we’re criticizing. Paper tigers, assumed positions not in evidence, and generic references to “experts” and “insiders” do little to advance a policy (or any other type of) discussion.

    My 2 cents… FWIW…

  • Aaron Guerami

    At this point, I don’t care what NASA is doing. I think putting people on the moon is not relevant at this time. We need to build the habitat and all resources needed to support people living on the moon before we put people on the moon. All of these needs will be supported by sending smaller single project systems to the moon and interlinking them. We need water, air, habitat… placed on the moon before any humans can go there. If these requirements are not prepositioned, then the LM needs to carry all these resources with them. A LM that carries these resources severely limits the time spent on the moon.

    Everything needs to be done in small stages. It will take ~100 smaller vehicles to support humans. Even ~100 small vehicles will cost less than 1 large program.

    It is ridiculous to include politicians in this conversations. They have no concept of the resources that are on the moon and are only looking for PR and to get re-elected. People like Dr. Griffin have only one job, to maintain the politicians who employ them.

    To my wife’s chagrin, I have converted our small condo into a space-craft manufacturing platform. I have built a small 3.2 terabyte, super-computer (12 opteron), and have built a small machine shop. I have an 11000 book library mostly dedicated to science, computer science… My lovely wife has to live with spacecraft drawings on all the glass in the house. She puts up with a lot.

    I am disabled with epilepsy and live on Social Security. So please don’t mess with the ‘ liberal concepts of helping others’. I have barely made it this far. Every third day or so I have a seizure that really screws up my memory. I have compensated for this by keeping notes on what I am working on. I am completely self taught.

    We just need to build these COTS parts ourselves.

    The parts I need to complete this project are few but complex. I need an ion engine that runs on Xenon. If someone has an extra one I would like to use it. I need people who are willing to evaluate my ideas and help work on optimization. I need people who are willing to take the 3d navigation, command and control systems I have and integrate them into the spacecraft. I need testing resources.

    We the scientist are the only ones who will make it to the moon in a reasonable timeline. I figure this whole project can be developed, launched and complete it mission for $5million and in 3 years time including the launch vehicle. Even less if this becomes a distributed development system.

    My Project is not a public project so I will not be broadcasting my work to the world. If you wish to support this project, please communicate with me via aguerami@gmail.com

    Aaron Guerami
    West Palm Beach, Fl
    It is the scientist who makes life better not the politician.

  • Donald F. Robertson

    Thomas: And don’t forget, we are also assuming a human lunar landing as human exploration of the moon. Why not a human orbital mission instead? The Shenzhou should be just as capable of being upgraded for a lunar orbital mission as the Soyuz.

    Without getting involved in this particular debate — I have no opinion one way or the other because of lack of evidence — I did want to point out that (a much earlier and version of) the Soyuz sans orbital module was designed for free return flights around the moon, not orbital missions. I don’t know if the Soyuz was ever planned for orbital missions, but it would undoubtedly need a lot of modification, not least the inclusion of an orbital module to house the crew plus supplies for a relatively long mission.

    ColdWater: Who cares if China goes to the Moon. We did it nearly 40 years ago. I’ll only be impressed if they do something new.

    So, the French and British exploring the new world was meaningless since the Spanish had already been there? I think the British and French of the time saw things rather differently. . . .

    — Donald

  • From Ray
    Space Review article on Griffin’s talk at the Heinlein Centennial:
    “yes, we are thinking critically about the utility of fuel depots and future architectures both around the Earth and around the Moon because you’re right, in the long run, I mean, I’ve written what we’re attempted to be learned papers on the topic and I mean, being grounded in economics. In the long run, we cannot have a usable and useful space exploration effort throwing everything away on each flight.”

    My commentary

    Mike Griffin is the gift that just keeps on giving.

    Looks like a missed one of his great quotes for our latest AIAA Space 2007 Paper.

    http://www.teamvisioninc.com/services-consulting-space-exploration-optimization.htm

    What is so frustrating is that Scott called it Mike’s architecture at the AIAA conference yesterday yet it has so little in common with what Mike states publicly are both the short and long term objectives of “his” VSE implementation plan. What is even more interesting is that Mike called the Ares-I Scott’s baby at Mike’s announcement of Scott leaving NASA.

    Anyone detect a bit of finger point between the two statements.

    Doug S. didn’t look like a happy camper when I passed him recently.

    Hope Springs Eternal.

  • anonymous.space

    Somewhat related to this thread, Horowitz let a real zinger go at the AIAA conference:

    “In explaining the latest [Constellation] slip [from 2014 to 2015], Scott Horowitz, associate administrator for NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, said the development of the Constellation Program, including the Orion module for carrying crew and the Ares rockets that will lift crew and cargo into space, is a ‘huge, technical system-engineering problem.'”

    See fifth paragraph in this article:

    http://www.wired.com/science/space/news/2007/09/space_gap

    If the inventor of the Scotty rocket himself (not really, but Horowitz has gotten the credit) admits that Ares presents a “huge, technical system-engineering problem”, the why are we still pursuing such a difficult solution? Why not pursue one of several, simpler alternatives that can provide the same essential capabilities sooner, at less cost, and with a lot less hassle?

    Quotes from both Griffin and Horowitz have been giving me headaches all week long. How can they not realize that what they’re saying goes directly against the very decisions they’ve made and are continuing to make?

    Oy vey…

  • Saying that Space is tough is white wash for placing hope ahead of hard won experience.

    Exchanging safety requirements for Mass margin requirements by striping ‘required’ safety systems off of Orion is just that. Yes Space is tough but you have to give hope enough margin to succeed or change your objectives or approach. At some point the astronauts are going to need to weigh in on this. I’m surprise they haven’t already moved to a four abreast 4.5m Orion, which would solve a number of problems.

    While the original Ares-I was a good idea within the context of replacing the Space Shuttle quickly, politics and performing the ISS mission only (i.e. 4-Segment SRB, small upper stage, and significantly lower mass capsule) it is clearly generating too many problems in an attempt to get it to work for the VSE longer term lunar and Mars focus. Its lower inherently lower performance is a key cause of the disruptive changes required by the Ares-V as well need to get the total Lunar mass up to the requirements of marginal polar mission.

  • richardb

    To anonymous’ observation that China lacks a heavy lift program, please look again.
    http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2007-09/22/content_6774462.htm

    I note that Xinhua specifically mentions lifting “space stations”. I think that qualifies as heavy lift.

  • anonymous.space

    “To anonymous’ observation that China lacks a heavy lift program, please look again.

    http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2007-09/22/content_6774462.htm

    I note that Xinhua specifically mentions lifting “space stations”. I think that qualifies as heavy lift.”

    All space stations, launch facilities, and heavy lift vehicles are not created equal. We have to examine the details and see whether they’re indicative of a human lunar program. A handful of points:

    1) China’s planned space station is little more than a couple modified Shenzhou spacecraft docked together. It has more in common with Apollo-Soyuz than Skylab, Mir, or ISS. The Long March 2F, which delivers only 8,400 kg to LEO, is the current launch vehicle for the Shenzhou. The two modified Shenzhou that will be used to create China’s space station will probably still be launched on a couple of these existing Long March 2F launch vehicles. No heavy lift required.

    2) The Wenchang facility referenced in the article is a former suborbital launch range that’s undergoing refit for orbital launches. Although it could theoretically launch manned missions, it’s officially called the “Wenchang Satellite Launch Center”. See Wikipedia entry for the same.

    3) China has been “planning” to construct the Wenchang facility since at least 2005 and has apparently made no construction progress to date(still “planning”). See:

    http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/China_Mulls_New_Southern_Space_Port.html

    4) Just by virtue of its more southerly latitude, Wenchang will improve the performance of the existing Long March family of launch vehicles over existing Chinese launch facilities. Also, unlike other Chinese launch facilities, Wenchang will be capable of launching the planned Long March 5 launch vehicle. But the Long March 5 is not a lunar-class heavy lift vehicle. With 25 tons to LEO, it’s a competitor to the Atlas V/Delta IV heavies, not to Ares V or another Saturn V-class lunar booster.

    5) Just as Wenchang is still in “planning”, the Long March 5 is still unfunded. See Wikipedia entry for Long March 5.

    Bottom-line: China’s space program is pursuing a small space station, still planning a new launch facility, and seeking funding for a new heavy lift version of the Long March launch vehicle. But none of this is indicative of a human lunar program. The space station does not require new launch vehicles, the launch facility — if it’s ever built — appears to be focused on satellite launches, and the new heavy lift Long March — if it’s ever funded — is comparable to Atlas/Delta heavies, not Ares V/Saturn V/lunar-class heavy lift.

    Hope this helps.

  • richardb

    I don’t know when China will decide the moon is worth their time. Personally I think taikanauts on Tranquility Base stepping on Neil’s foot prints and bringing home some old American bric brac would be a stunt the Chinese would enjoy. But you said “But the physical realities associated with erecting and testing heavy lift launch vehicles (and their engines), testing Earth reentry from lunar trajectories, testing lunar landers, etc. means its very hard, if not impossible, to hide a human lunar program.” And I say, who says they are hiding it? I’d say they are announcing bit by bit, the pieces they need. Incidentally, in the Xinuha article, they refer to “large space station” elements. Like the Destiny module? Like Kibo? Like Columbus?

  • anonymous.space

    “And I say, who says they are hiding it?”

    I never claimed that China is hiding a human lunar program. I only stated that is was a possibility, but a very remote one, given all the highly visible activities involved in carrying out a human lunar program.

    “Incidentally, in the Xinuha article, they refer to “large space station” elements. Like the Destiny module? Like Kibo? Like Columbus?”

    Like Apollo-Soyuz, as I already mentioned. I don’t know what “large” specifically refers to, but Project 921-2, China’s space station, was last planned to consist of nothing more than the unmanned docking of Shenzhou 8 and 9. I would not describe that as “large” as far as space stations go. (Actually, I’d call it as “small” as space stations come.) But the Chinese, or just their propoganda machine, may arguably may view it as “large”. As an aside, the manned flight of Shenzhou 10 was last planned to be the first crewed visit to China’s space station.

    I’d note that it’s doubtful any of this space station activity will launch from Wenchang given that it doesn’t need Long March 5 capabilities (I checked and it appears that Shenzhou 8 and 9 were planned for launch on Long March 2EAs) and given that Wenchang is still in planning.

    “I’d say they are announcing bit by bit, the pieces they need.”

    What human lunar-specific pieces are you referring too? All China has (or appears to have) is a Gemini-equivalent Shenzou/Long March 2, a lunar remote sensing orbiter that’s running behind schedule, aspirations to fund a 25-ton Atlas V/Delta IV-class launch vehicle and break ground on its launch site, and a still potential future Apollo/Soyuz-class space station that will consist of nothing more than a couple unmanned Shenzhous docked together.

    Outside rendezvous and docking at their planned space station, there is no evidence that the things China (or any nation) needs to actually build a human lunar program are underway in China. There is no Ares V/Saturn V-class lunar heavy lift vehicle or its engines in development or under testing. There is no in-space fueling development underway or orbital tests planned. There are no human capsule reentry tests from a lunar-return trajectory planned or underway. There is no lunar lander in development or under testing.

    If the Chinese stick to their plan to make a decision circa 2020 on a human lunar landing circa 2030, we may start to see some of these elements get underway a decade or so from now. But so far, there’s no evidence of such.

    FWIW…

  • […] 正当中国的嫦娥工程紧锣密鼓地实施中,美国航天局(NASA)局长格里芬(Michael D. Griffin)2007年9月17日在纪念NASA50周年的一次讲话中讲到,他个人认为“中国将比我们先回到月球上”。后来有记者特别问他是不是指宇航员登陆月球,他再一次肯定地说,他确实是指的宇航员登陆月球。那么,格里芬为什么会说出如此灰心的话呢? […]

  • richardb

    Anon, this is the lunar specific piece you might care to read.
    http://www.breitbart.com/article.php?id=070926154203.0kkgkygz&show_article=1
    Sounds to me the decision to put a manned program to the Moon has already been taken and they’ve decided on a date for planning purposes. So now we know the Chinese have a manned lunar program, announced publicly; they are building a heavy lift pad nearer to the equator; they have announced strategic reasons for going to the moon; they have now published their timeline. Still a skeptic?

  • anonymous.space

    “Anon, this is the lunar specific piece you might care to read.”

    Tell me if I’m going blind, but the one relevant quote from the article that I see says that “China plans to set up a lunar base after 2020… a Chinese space official said Wednesday.” The article goes on to indicate that Ji Wu, director of China’s Center for Space Science and Applied Research, is responsible for the quote.

    Just to be clear, is that what you’re basing this on?

    “Sounds to me the decision to put a manned program to the Moon has already been taken”

    I don’t see the evidence for such a decision in that article, for a couple reasons:

    1) The quote is from Chinese center director who is only the equivalent of a NASA Center Director, not a NASA Administrator, a White House official, or a Congressional leader. Just as quotes from NASA engineers, scientists, and managers about future programs often don’t reflect White House policy, Congressional funding, or NASA-approved plans, a Chinese center director does not speak for the entire Chinese space program, nevertheless the Chinese government.

    2) The quote only makes reference to “plans”. NASA has tons and tons of plans, but that doesn’t mean that decisions — by NASA HQ leadership, the White House, and/or Congress — have been made to implement and fund those plans. (Heck, I can point to multiple missions in the VSE that Griffin has cancelled.) Same thing goes for China’s, or any other country’s, space program.

    Are there people in the Chinese space program, like this center director, who have worked on plans to build a lunar base? Sure there are. Does that mean that China’s government has made a decision to proceed with such a program and fund it? No.

    “and they’ve decided on a date for planning purposes.”

    Tell me if I’m going blind, but I don’t see a specific date. The quote only makes reference to a time period “after 2020″. This is actually consistent with the quotes I’ve provided earlier, which state that China doesn’t plan to make a decision on a human lunar program until after 2020 and doesn’t anticipate its first human lunar landing until 2030 at the earliest.

    Could China’s future human lunar program start now and go faster if they wanted to and applied the necessary resources? Sure. Does the linked article prove, or even indicate, that they are going to do so? No.

    “So now we know the Chinese have a manned lunar program, announced publicly”

    No we don’t. This article only indicates that a Chinese center director has been involved in “plans” to “set up a lunar base after 2020.” Plans, especially coming from a Chinese center director, are not the same thing as a government “decision”, “announced publicly” or otherwise.

    When China’s Premier makes a Kennedy-esque announcement, or when the head of China’s space program says that their next ten year plan is funded for a human lunar return, or when satellite images of actual, lunar-specific hardware getting built or tested start showing up, then we can safely state that China has made a decision to land humans on the Moon. Until then, this is little more than bureaucratic planning, which is endemic to any national space program, Chinese or otherwise.

    “they are building a heavy lift pad nearer to the equator;”

    Yes, but per my earlier post:

    1) The proposed new facility is a “Satellite Launch Center”.

    2) The facility has been in planning for at least two years. A decision to actually start construction has not been made (or probably funded) yet.

    3) The “heavy lift” Long March 5 being referred to is only equivalent to an EELV heavy (25 tons to LEO). It’s not a lunar-class Saturn V/Ares V heavy lift (~100 tons to LEO).

    4) Even the EELV-equivalent “heavy lift” Long March 5 is still in planning. A decision to actually start and fund development has not been made yet.

    I’d also note that first stage of China’s Long March family relies on low performing UMDH and dinitrogen tetroxide propellants. Just my 2 cent estimate, but I’d guess that China will build an entire new first stage and engine with higher performing propellants before undertaking a human lunar program.

    (These propellants are also highly toxic and killed some 63 to 500 workers and villagers — depending on whether we trust the Chinese government or Western press — in two launch accidents back in 1995 and 1996. Loral subsequently shared technical information to help China figure out the cause of the accidents, which in turn led to INA and factored into the tightening of ITAR. No good deed goes unpunished.)

    “they have announced strategic reasons for going to the moon”

    Mr. Wu makes reference to going to the Moon to “utilise its resources”, including “industrial purposes” and “potential energy resources”. An actual decision by the Chinese government to pursue a human lunar program will probably have more to do with regional competition with India and (maybe) Japan, than the application of lunar resources to industry or energy supply, which is arguably decades, if not centuries, off.

    In fact, we may not see a decision by China to fund a human lunar program (or any other step beyond China’s current LEO flights) until India gets serious about its human space flight program and pushes into LEO.

    “they have now published their timeline”

    Again, tell me if I’m wrong, but I didn’t see any timeline in that article.

    “Still a skeptic?”

    It’s not a matter of skepticism. It’s a matter of evidence. And there’s just no written or physical evidence — at least that we’ve been able to collectively dredge up on this thread — that the Chinese government has made a decision to start a human lunar program or is actually funding, building, and testing human lunar hardware today.

    Again, are there folks working on and talking about such plans in China’s space program? Sure. It wouldn’t be a national space program if there wasn’t. But there are also folks working on and talking about interstellar probes at NASA. Does that mean that decisions have been made to pursue and fund either set of plans and start building and testing the necessary hardware? No.

    It’s easy in the intelligence business to overhype the statements of a bureaucrat or two. But we have to be more critical than that, and examine carefully who the speaker is, what they’re specifically saying, and whether it’s consistent with the statements of their higher-ups and (most importantly) the actions the country is actually undertaking.

    I apologize if that sounds preachy, but, in the context of our post-Iraq WMD debacle world, there arguably needs to be a higher level of rigor applied to our foreign intelligence, including any questions surrounding China’s human space flight program. And based on everything in this thread and that’s out there, I would still criticize Griffin for his lack of rigor and fear-mongering about China beating us back to the Moon, especially in the face of written Chinese plans to the contrary and the lack of any physical evidence that China is pursuing a human lunar program.

    Finally, on a lighter note, I have to say I found this part of the article’s translation amusing, where Mr. Wu, referring to our Moon said:

    “As a satellite of the Earth, it is a large platform that never stops and needs no maintenance”

    I guess that’s certainly two advantages that the Moon has over ISS, Mir, and Skylab! It never stops and never needs maintenance! Funny stuff…

  • […] on the Moon, before the United States returns, would be viewed here in the US. (NASA administrator Mike Griffin has previously said that when (not if, in his opinion) that happens, “Americans will not like it, but they will […]

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