Campaign '08

A bit more on Obama’s Constellation cut

An article in today’s USA Today includes a quote from Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama explaining, in part, why he chose to cut money from NASA’s Constellation program to pay for his education plan:

To pay for his education program, Obama would eliminate tax-deductibility of CEO pay by corporations and delay NASA’s program to return to the moon and then journey to Mars.

“We’re not going to have the engineers and the scientists to continue space exploration if we don’t have kids who are able to read, write and compute,” Obama said.

45 comments to A bit more on Obama’s Constellation cut

  • Kb

    Great…we won’t have the engineers and scientists necessary for space exploration without job prospects either. Short sighted much?

  • Chance

    Space exploration is hardly the only field we need engineers and scientists in. Energy is one field I can think of that will almost certainly see enormous growth in the coming years. And even if commercial space travel develops more slowly than expected, it is still growing and will need these people in the year to come.

    And while I am not particularly conservative or libertarian, I don’t see why it should be the Federal government’s role to garentee the employment of thousands of engineers and scientists. In defending NASA with this argument you are making it sound as if NASA really is just the jobs program it has been accused of being. This is hardly the image you should want to project.

  • MarkWhittington

    There is a national security aspect to publicly funded space exploration that is seldom talked about and is obviously not understood by Obama.

  • There is no doubt over the last 8 years education has been neglected. College costs in Texas has risen over 49% on the average since 2003 after deregulation.

    At NASA/JSC we have heard about this looming lack of expertise on the NASA and Contractor side. I think Obama has a point.

    But you watch all the civil service employees and contractors start to whine about not getting enough of your tax dollars to pay their 6 figure salaries.

    Somtimes I wonder who is less educated, the people making the six figure incomes, or the ones paying for their six figure incomes.

  • Mike Fazah

    MarkWhittington: There is a national security aspect to publicly funded space exploration that is seldom talked about and is obviously not understood by Obama.

    This is not true. The national security aspect of U.S. space investments is under the purview of DOD and NRO. And rest assured, Obama’s proposal does not put this on the table.

    By curtailing NASA’s spaceflight development activities, Obama’s proposal would open the door to privatized ventures. This is a good thing. Plus, many of the engineers currently on the Constellation dole could move to the private sector.

  • ACF

    Obama’s suggestion is excellent – not because it will educate more people (it probably won’t). Rather, it will remove the wasted billions of dollars from NASA centers.

    If there really was an interest in educating more engineers/scientists, then we would do what China did. We would cut education funding across the board EXCEPT in the areas of science and engineering, which we would fund with massive budgets DIRECTLY to students and private-sector employers. Not that THAT’s a good idea. But, China did it, and students are running in droves away from liberal arts and into science/engineering. Simple.

  • reader

    national security ? Note that only Constellation was singled out for cuts. How exactly does developing Ares I and Orion improve security of the nation ??

  • vze3gz45

    The house and the senate, republicians and democrats their, would never support Obamma’s program of taking money from Aries/Orion and creating a 10 year gap until we get the new spacecraft.

    vze3gz45

  • Mike Fazah

    vze3gz45: The house and the senate, republicians and democrats their, would never support Obamma’s program of taking money from Aries/Orion and creating a 10 year gap until we get the new spacecraft.

    Only the few with NASA centers in their districts would protest. I don’t see why it would be in any of the other’s interest to oppose such a measure. There is a lot more to be gained politically in supporting programs that address broadly acknowledged issues, such as education.

  • MarkWhittington

    “national security ? Note that only Constellation was singled out for cuts. How exactly does developing Ares I and Orion improve security of the nation ??”

    If you don’t think the ability to put people in space enhances National Security, not to mention eventual control of the Moon, then you might want to think again.

    “The house and the senate, republicians and democrats their, would never support Obamma’s program of taking money from Aries/Orion and creating a 10 year gap until we get the new spacecraft.”

    Doubtlessly correct. But then I don’t expect Obama to become President and get into the position to try.

  • Chance

    “If you don’t think the ability to put people in space enhances National Security, not to mention eventual control of the Moon, then you might want to think again.”

    The only national security aspect I can think of is maybe the need to repair the occassional spy satellite. And since that capability is rarely needed, and the military has several collection capabilities to cover any gaps until a replacement sat is launched, this still isn’t a convincing national security argument human spaceflight.

    As for the moon, China wants to land personnel in 2017 I hear, but even if they make it in that time frame it’s not like they can set up a giant missile defense system on the surface and claim it in the name of the party or anything. What exactly is the strategic loss for us?

  • MarkWhittington

    “What exactly is the strategic loss for us?”

    In the near term, a big hit to our pretige, In that event, other countries will start to think that the future lays not with the United States, but with China.

    Farther down the road, the energy resources of the Moon (helium 3, materials to build space based solar power, etc) would belong to China while we still argue over what would be the “correct” way to go to the Moon.

  • reader

    Prestige does not equal national security. Any of the things you listed, like SPS etc, NASA does not work on. ESAS/Constellation is arguably a roadblock to development of any of these things.
    You have to do better than that.

  • There is a national security aspect to publicly funded space exploration that is seldom talked about

    Absolutely, Mark. Other than the avalanche of “OMG, the Reds have the high ground” that created NASA, drove the “missile gap” brouhaha leading into the 1960 election, generated support essential to Mercury/Gemini/Apollo, contributed significantly to STS and what became ISS… and crops up wistfully as “Yellow Peril Gonna Get Yo Moon Mama” in every second or third post from you… it’s hardly talked about at all.

    Do keep trying to break through the 50-year conspiracy of silence, OK?

  • Mark,
    I still find it hilarious that you seriously believe that the Chinese really intend to spend the kind of money that would be necessary to “take over the moon”. I mean seriously. Where do you get this stuff. You really think that they have no other more pressing national priorities? Like say pursuing terrestrial energy projects that don’t involve unobtanium or completely unproven technologies (which might not even be possible) like He-3 fusion reactors? I mean really? What do you think they’re going to do. Hold all the moon’s cheese hostage?

    Geez. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised coming from someone who really thinks a bunch of towelheaded malcontents in the Middle East are going to take over the world and force our women to wear burqhas if we don’t bomb the crap out of any of their countries that even look at us funny…

    ~Jon

  • Ray

    From the article: “To pay for his education program, Obama would eliminate tax-deductibility of CEO pay by corporations and delay NASA’s program to return to the moon and then journey to Mars.

    “We’re not going to have the engineers and the scientists to continue space exploration if we don’t have kids who are able to read, write and compute,” Obama said.”

    It sounds from the article like the Obama campaign, or at least the USA Today reporter, is confused about what the Constellation program is. It almost sounds like they think they’ll get a huge amount of money to spend by delaying the Return to the Moon program, when actually a lot of Constellation is supposed to be spent on ISS transportation.

  • Ray

    I can’t help but wonder if Administrator Griffin is noticing any of these Presidential candidate proposals to use ESAS like a big fat bank account. If he wants a lunar return program, he should be thinking along lines that encourage the next Administration to continue the lunar return program. For example:

    - Since the big Ares I/Orion/Ares V plan looks like a huge wad of money to some candidates (possibly – likely? – more than we’ve heard from so far), try to make it a less visible target. Make a smaller program that’s less tempting. For example, adjust the design to send 2, not 4, astronauts to the Moon, and 3 to the ISS, per launch campaign.

    - Get some of the program actually returning results now, so that there’s a consituency for the Moon by the time the next Administrator makes decisions on the Lunar program. For example, get some Lunar robotic science missions started ASAP (more than LRO). Also, get some robotic demos of astronomy or Earth observations from the Moon or lunar orbit built so the Astronomy and Earth observation communities get interested. It’s no problem if they’re not paradigm-shifting demos in and of themselves, as long as it’s obvious that the plan is for astronauts to build on the demo concepts with much more capabilities. Get robotic Lunar ISRU demos in the queue so the public will see that the plan can be sustainable.

    - Kick off some more Moon-oriented Centennial Challenges, and if they’re held on the ground, have them held in states of interest to Presidential candidates. Augment the Lunar X PRIZE with more (or bigger) bonuses for achievements that help the NASA lunar plan, and with more prize money for 2nd and 3rd place rovers.

    - Forget the ESAS plan, which will not deliver results (especially lunar results) until too late to be of any interest to the next President. Invest in COTS enough so that it will succeed at ISS cargo and crew transportation. This can be a building block that makes it a lot easier for the next President (or the one after that) to start a real lunar program. The lunar program was always going to be decided by later Presidents anyway, once the ESAS plan was started. The goal is to make it more attractive for them. If COTS succeeds in performance and price, important building blocks for a lunar return will be there. Since COTS should be cheaper than Ares ISS transportation, this will leave money to achieve the “development of lunar constituencies” steps I mentioned earlier.

    - If any funds remain, concentrate on other building blocks that could be used for the Lunar return, but that are of use in and of themselves (remember the VSE’s “economy, security, and science”?). This could I suppose be done in-house at NASA, but “of use in and of themselves” to me brings the connotation that they could be commercially useful, so I lean towards a COTS approach. Either way, get those building blocks, or infrastructure elements, started, whether they are in-space fuel depots, tugs for crew or cargo, slow but efficient cargo propulsion elements, and so on. The idea is to design such systems to be useful for, say, satellites or ISS, and also for a future Lunar return.

    - Get commercial and international participation in the short term. It’s a lot easier to get commercial and international support for the plan (in terms of political support and also funding support) with many of the smaller components I’ve suggested above than with the monolithic ESAS VSE implementation. This is doubly true because Administrator Griffin has forbidden international participation in the Lunar transportation architecture, and made ESAS a NASA-internal operation. Scrap the monolithic plan and go for the multi-layered plan of smaller pieces, and get commercial space and international space on your side!

    - Dr. Griffin has said something to the effect that “NASA isn’t the Department of Education”. That’s true, but Obama’s plan makes it pretty clear that NASA needs to get current students inspired to get into math, science, and maybe space. I doubt that many care about the ESAS plan to get astronauts to the Moon in 2020 … or later we might guess. They’ll be SO OLD by the time that happens. On the other hand, if they see results happing again and again (a steady stream of lunar robotics, demos, prizes, etc) they’ll get more interested, and want to build on the building blocks that could be started now.

    As I mentioned in another post, NASA really should crank up the volume on other education-related work besides the Lunar work, too, like helping the current and future suborbital folks get teachers, students, and their experiments into space or near-space.

  • Ray,

    Amen, brother.

    – Jim

  • D. Messier

    Corporations take tax deductions on CEO pay? Really? How does that work, precisely?

    Ray:

    Does NASA still have money for an actual lander in its budget? I had heard the administration had zeroed out that money about four or five months ago. They may have ended up putting it back. Any idea where that stands?

    I also don’t understand how descoping the lunar objective to sending two people there would really solve much of anything. You’ll go from Apollo on steroids to…Apollo redux. It would make the whole program look more threadbare and a bigger target. And the operating costs go up because you’ll need to two launches to send the same four people to the moon.

  • SIguy

    Amen, brother.

    No thanks, Jim, we’ve already seen the kind of launch vehicle architectures that hope, faith and prayer delivers, and it is not a pretty sight.

  • Kevin Parkin

    Ray, Jim,

    I agree with the approach above, but even if the next NASA administrator makes the changes suggested I don’t think it has enough of a change in focus to survive public opinion as the post-Apollo generation become a larger fraction of voters.

    I am an engineer born in the post-Apollo era. The Shuttle first launched when I was 3 years old; my generation grew up with rapid technological progress that made a difference in cell phones, computers and software, while NASA stood still.

    The future is a place we create in our minds by extrapolating the most rapid technological changes. NASA is not in that future, it is a quaint organization left over from the past. Perhaps NACA was viewed this way after Sputnik.

    Unlike NACA, NASA has lived beyond its age with no catalyzing event like Sputnik to empower the next generation. VSE has failed in this regard – I can attest that NASA is a 50-something club that is quite hostile to young engineers of my generation who ignore paperwork and ‘make trouble’ by trying to effect meaningful change.

    This is supported by the current administrator, who has zeroed all the technology programs, precluding new approaches, and actively discourages young recruits. On the other hand, he may be ahead of the curve: If I wanted to bring NASA to a natural conclusion, I’m not sure I would do much differently. But I digress, I still can’t get excited about the changes Ray proposes because NASA will still be NASA afterwards.

  • Mike Fazah

    Kevin:

    Regarding NASA, many agree that it is time to retire the number. A wise person once said that the effective half life of a government institution is 20 years. Beyond that it becomes entrenched and preoccupies itself with survival and maintaining the status quo. This is exactly what your seeing now with the current implementation of VSE. Griffin is a Cold War era, baby boom engineer whose inspiration follows that of Homer Hickam in “Rocketboys.” He and other senior leaders at NASA are trying to reclaim the past. They conveniently disregard the fact that the space program cannot be singularly focused as it was in its early years. In addition they attempt to conjure up boogie men (i.e., Chinese) to rally support and justify their call to arms.

    I’m not sure what the solution should be, but it probably involves elimination of NASA or an extreme makeover of its management structure. I like the idea of converting the NASA centers into GOCOs or FFRDCs. There are many other changes that would have to be implemented, but that’s not the purpose of this post.

    Regardless, your comments about NASA are right on, and are appreciated by us late boomer/early Gen Xers.

  • David Murtaugh

    “In the near term, a big hit to our pretige”

    If you’re worried about American prestige, then I’m sure that you’ll agree that the Iraq war was a mistake because it has done so much to damage American prestige around the world. Right? Also, don’t you think that the declining dollar is undercutting American prestige as well? Seriously, Canada’s dollar is now worth more than ours. Canada!

    My point is that if prestige is important, then space is not the only, and certainly not the most important, method of establishing prestige. What other administration actions contribute or detract from it?

  • Corporations take tax deductions on CEO pay? Really? How does that work, precisely?

    All employee salaries are deductible as a business expense.

  • Christine

    Great…we won’t have the engineers and scientists necessary for space exploration without job prospects either.

    If they’re such “rocket scientists” they should be smart enough to find fulfiling jobs elsewhere. Or are you talking about the USA contracted plumbers?

  • Chance

    “Farther down the road, the energy resources of the Moon (helium 3, materials to build space based solar power, etc) would belong to China while we still argue over what would be the “correct” way to go to the Moon.”

    If China sets up a constellation of Lunar Positioning System satellites up around the moon, then I’ll worry about moon wars and a land grab by the Chinese. Until then, worries about losing anything of strategic interest to the Chinese are premature, to say the least.

  • Slguy,

    ESAS (and Ares 1 in particular) was supposed to be a low-tech, near-term, low-risk. With the J2X and the 5-segment, we have 2015 first human flight instead of 2012. I’m all for questioning “dreamy” architectures, and I don’t have a theological opposition to heavy lift, but Ray’s core message was do small things quickly to build momentum. NASA has one large expensive and (in comparison to ESA, Japan, India, and China) late LRO, instead of a series of microorbiters and landers lined up to keep lunar return RESULTS in the media and the minds of Congress.
    The beauty of COTS is not that SpaceX is “smarter” than Lockheed or Boeing, but that for a fraction of Constellation’s LEO-focused budget, you could fund 4 or 5 SpaceX-type concepts that would deliver at least 1 or 2 successful humans-to-orbit systems, obliterating the “gap”.
    Ray suggested a bunch of other examples where a different paradigm could produce earlier and more plentiful results for the VSE than what ESAS has turned into.
    Since I care more about the Vision and getting NASA to explore beyond LEO than the fixation some have on a NASA system for servicing ISS, I would prefer Ray’s approach of planting seeds for real exploration.

    Right now the architecture we’re having real trouble — engineering, talent, and budgetary — building isn’t a “pretty sight” either.

    – Jim

  • Sciguy

    Since I care more about the Vision and getting NASA to explore beyond LEO than the fixation some have on a NASA system for servicing ISS, I would prefer Ray’s approach of planting seeds for real exploration.

    US LEO and GEO guys and gals, you know, us guys and gals that have real bills to pay, don’t give a rat’s as* about the visions of a deluded brain dead war criminal, we are the people that have to somehow coax an integrated propulsion system all the way to a stable low earth orbit within five years. So it looks now like Elon Musk and his crew is well on his way to success.

    During that time, we are doing some exploring, we already have some great missions flying to three new planets before 2016. So that gives us plenty of time to get our rockets sorted out – two of them, very fine liquid powered modern two stage to orbit launch vehicles, which already exist.

    In the meantime, you may continue to entertain your fantasies of large solid rocket booster propelled heavy lift launch vehicles, at great taxpayer expense, the rest of US already have a planet that needs to be explored.

    We only have one chance to get this right, and so far, you have got it wrong.

  • D. Messier

    Jim, Ray:

    What are your views, if any, on the larger fiscal realities that Bush has left us with (debt runup, continuing deficits, enormous war expenditures, unsustainable fiscal path, et.al.)?

    Draw up all the plans you want, but a country that’s not fiscally sound is going to have a hard time sustaining any sort of human exploration program for very long. Especially a lunar program that has such a small, narrow constituency.

  • reader

    so with all the excellent policy suggestions and ideas bounced around on space blogosphere, is anyone at all taking the message to one of the candidates campaign ? I mean its nigh to impossible to affect the policies of those currently in power, but right about now is the best time to influence the future policy makers, is it not ?
    where are obamaforspace.com and rudysavesspace2008.org campaign sites ?

  • Draw up all the plans you want, but a country that’s not fiscally sound is going to have a hard time sustaining any sort of human exploration program for very long. Especially a lunar program that has such a small, narrow constituency.

    Could we stop pretending that NASA is a large part of the U.S. budget. It’s not. Yet for decades NASA has been accused of stealing food from the mouths of starving children. Supposedly we could have cured cancer, ended poverty and brought peace to the world, if only NASA wasn’t sucking up all the money.

    No other government program gets this kind of hostility, not even the billions lost in Iraq, or the pork funneled to big oil.

    This despite the fact that NASA has a demonstrated record of success at revolutionary technology development, exploration initiatives that have rewritten textbooks on solar, planetary and physical science, and of course NASA contributes a huge part of the data used in monitoring the Earth’s climate and weather.

    NASA is a successful and energetic organization. One this country should be proud of. And hardly a relic of the Sputnik era.

  • al Fansome

    JINCHI: for decades NASA has been accused of stealing food from the mouths of starving children. Supposedly we could have cured cancer, ended poverty and brought peace to the world, if only NASA wasn’t sucking up all the money.

    Dear Jinchi,

    Sorry for the bluntness, but do you want a little cheese to go with your whine?

    The truth of the matter is that Mike Griffin, and his NASA, have ignored key recommendations from the “President’s Commission on Implementation of U.S. Space Exploration Policy”. They were warned, in writing, that they needed to take specific actions to implement an affordable and sustainable human exploration plan. They ignored the commission, and have dug their own grave.

    What are some of the commission recommendations that Griffin has ignored?

    THREE IMPERATIVES: Three imperatives must continuously animate the nation’s space exploration journey. It must be: (1) sustainable over several decades; (2) affordable with available resources; and (3) credible in the stewardship of taxpayer dollars.

    The problem is that Mike Griffin’s ESAS is not credible stewardship. If you think ESAS is credible, a little reminder of what ESAS actually says:

    “The goal of using the SRB for the CLV is to take advantage of an existing booster with little risk to the manufacturing schedule and cost. Overall, development risk is low with utilization of existing assets and experience. Facilities and hardware risk is low, without significant vendor ramp-up.”

    Not only is ESAS not credible, it is ESAS sustainable over several decades. It is not even sustainable to 2010. Nor is ESAS affordable with the available resources. When Mike Griffin goes up on the Hill and begs for $2 Billion more dollars, which is almost certainly NOT going to happen, that is a sign that the system is unaffordable. Begging for more money is usually the last step before system failure.

    Why the impending failure?

    If you peel back the onion (asking “why” every time you get an answer), eventually you will get to “Griffin’s ego has gotten the better of himself”. The entire national space exploration enterprise will suffer as a result. Why do I say his “ego”? Because he thinks he is smarter than everybody else, and because he is really smart (and is smarter than most everybody else), he has “smart person’s problem”. He does not listen.

    What other parts of the presidential commission did Griffin ignore?

    LIMIT NASA’S ROLE: NASA’s role must be limited to only those areas where there is irrefutable demonstration that only government can perform the proposed activity.

    Is there any “irrefutable demonstration” that only government can deliver crew and cargo to ISS? Obviously not. Then why is NASA spending many many billions on trying to send the CEV to ISS?

    Now Mike Griffin has also told Congress that he is not smart enough to figure out how to close the gap. That his best plan is to spend many billions on Orion/Ares 1 to ISS. He suggested that Congress find somebody smarter if they don’t like his plan.

    I suggest they find somebody who will listen.

    Are you listening Mike?

    Is anybody who works for Mike listening?

    Is anybody who talks to somebody who works for Mike listening?

    Is anybody who is willing to send Griffin an email listening? .

    Mike, you don’t need to be smarter. You need to start listening, and stop assuming that everybody else is stupid. If you are not smart enough to eliminate the gap, I recommend that you read the “President’s Commission on Implementation of U.S. Space Exploration Policy”. In addition to the two commission recommendations above, I suggest that you pay attention to two specific recommendations below.

    DECISIVE TRANSFORMATION: NASA’s relationship to the private sector, its organizational structure, business culture, and management processes must be decisively transformed.

    RELY ON PRIVATE INDUSTRY: The Commission recommends NASA recognize and implement a far larger presence of private industry in space operations with the specific goal of allowing private industry to assume the primary role of providing services to NASA, and most immediately in accessing low-Earth orbit.

    - Al

  • Is there any “irrefutable demonstration” that only government can deliver crew and cargo to ISS?

    Actually, yes. There is no private company in the world that can put a man in orbit, never mind man the ISS. Private industry won’t take the lead on any venture that doesn’t have a high percentage of returning hard cash in the short term. Space travel isn’t even close to that point yet. Like most long term initiatives, the initial investment has to come from government or it comes from no where. The entire history of human exploration backs that up.

  • al Fansome

    Jinchi,

    As do many others, you are making a false comparison. The correct comparison is NOT “Only Government” versus “Only Private Industry”.

    The correct comparison is “Only Government” version “Government-private-industry Partnership”

    The entire history of exploration backs up the fact that public-private partnerships result in the most innovative and effective means for opening new frontiers.

    - Al

  • Jinchi I’d feel safer riding on an Atlas V or a Delta IV (and possibly a future Falcon when it has proven itself) than the Space Shuttle (or Ares I) and they can send payloads further than the ISS orbit (and further than the Shuttle can go). Jon Goff at SelenianBoondocks (and others?) have even made the case they could be pushed all the way to the moon if one added some infrastructure (infrastructure one would be wise to develop either way as Direct has caught on to).

    Do they lack a capsule? Sure, although they could buy some cheap ones from Russia as a stop-gap measure. Then again if NASA only had to get Orion finished I bet they could do it before 2010 if they wanted to.

    Do they lack a market that makes the investment worth it? Sure, so far, and mostly because NASA refuses to guarantee they’ll buy any such services.

    So actually, no, there isn’t any “irrefutable demonstration” that only government can deliver crew and cargo to ISS.

  • Ray

    I think Jinchi is right that by itself private industry is going to have a hard time developing reliable transportation of cargo and crew to the Space Station. They might have a better chance than they’ve had in previous decades with new potential markets (eg, Bigelow), but it’s undeniably a huge technical and business challenge. That’s why an approach like NASA’s COTS is so important. COTS lowers the barriers for private companies to meet NASA’s needs, while at the same time protecting NASA’s investment (unlike the Ares/Orion contract approach) by ensuring milestones are met before fuding is released, and encouraging the private COTS companies to use an efficient development process to make an efficient space transportation architecture (because the private companies also have development funding on the line, and if they make a manageable transportation architecture, they stand to win a lot of commercial business. The ESAS contracts have none of these advantages. COTS isn’t ideal, but, if funded adequately enough, is a pretty good model for overcoming the inherent difficulties that both government and private industry have encountered in solving the space access problem. If anything, I’d like to see variants of the COTS approach applied in other space areas by multiple agencies where traditional contracts haven’t brought the results we’d like, yet where private companies that overcome the hurdle stand to win both commercial and government business.

    I agree with Al that Dr. Griffin should take the Aldridge Commission report a lot more seriously. He probably should carry a copy everywhere he goes, and hand out copies to the rank and file in their offices when he visits a center. Section III, “Building a Robust Space Industry”, should be a favorite topic in meetings and management emails.

    reader: “so with all the excellent policy suggestions and ideas bounced around on space blogosphere, is anyone at all taking the message to one of the candidates campaign”

    It looks like Ferris Valyn just did this with Obama’s campaign. Whatever your position is, it’s a good idea to personally take it to candidate campaigns, and these days there are a lot of ways to do that.

    D. Messier: “What are your views, if any, on the larger fiscal realities that Bush has left us with (debt runup, continuing deficits, enormous war expenditures, unsustainable fiscal path, et.al.)?”

    I’ll probably not make any comments on particular politicians on non-space issues here (especially one like the fiscal environment where in my opinion there’s plenty of blame to go around across parties, government branches, and decades). I will say that the overall federal fiscal situation makes it even more difficult for a multi-decade, big budget program like ESAS to succeed. Since we have such a fiscal environment, it would be wise to avoid such a program in the first place, or at least minimize the difficulties it will encounter by making it a bit (or a lot) less technically ambitious. If you’re looking for a shot against Bush, I think the fact that he’s allowing ESAS to go ahead without either fighting for the large amount of funding that it needs, or forcing Dr. Griffin to alter or replace it to match fiscal realities, doesn’t reflect too well on him. I did think Bush’s original VSE concept was a big improvement, even though I’m not personally more interested in Lunar exploration and development than Near-Earth asteroids, Lagrange points, GEO, LEO, or even suborbital space as long as it’s done in a more cost-effective and useful way (ie using and therefore promoting commercial space services that hopefully will ultimately be able to stand on their own).

  • What Al is arguing for is for the federal government to subsidize a private company simply to do the job that NASA does now. There is no other purpose for manned spaceflight now and none for the forseeable future. This simply puts a middle man between the objective – the ISS in this case – and the government. And that simply increases the costs required to do the same job. Just as Blackwater does a military mission at greater expense than the U.S. military, this would simply increase expenses. Privatization for its own sake is absurd.

    If there were an established private entity already doing the work of sending people to orbit, it might make sense to tap into their expertise and resources to do the job more cheaply. But there isn’t. What you’re describing is simply corporate welfare.

  • Jinchi neither Ares I & V, or Orion, or the Shuttle, or its boosters and main tank were/are/will be actually created by NASA themselves. Same companies and company groups involved as almost always: Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman, ATK, ULA, and so on.

    The Shuttle hasn’t been used for anything much but ISS construction and the Hubble telescope for at least a decade if not two. Everything else NASA does already uses “off-the-shelf” launchers like for example Delta or Atlas. Would you say that “puts a middle man between the objective … and the government”? Would you call that “corporate welfare”?

  • Ray

    Jinchi: “What Al is arguing for is for the federal government to subsidize a private company simply to do the job that NASA does now.”

    This is true, but NASA already subsidizes private companies to do space transportation. ISS supply under ESAS is supposed to be contracted to and implemented mainly by private companies. The Shuttle is managed by United Space Alliance. The difference between that is that ESAS ISS support is planned to take tens of billions of NASA dollars to implement, whereas COTS is supposed to take $500 million of NASA dollars, split over a couple companies, to implement cargo services. Even if you were to, say, triple that so it’s a more realistic amount, and double it again for crew transportation, it’s still a much better deal than ESAS, assuming it works (which is far from guaranteed, but neither is ESAS). Not only that, but NASA doesn’t have to pay COTS money unless the vendor meets agreed-upon milestones.

    Where do the savings come from? With ESAS, the private companies (contractors) don’t pitch in any money, but with COTS, they do, in the expectation that they’ll have vehicles they can use for commercial purposes.

    There’s also the possibility that private companies will be more efficient than the government when it comes to operations. NASA Administrator Griffin has stated that he believes this is the case. It seems likely, since they won’t be under the same political restrictions, they’ll have financial incentives to be efficient, and if multiple competitors are there the best will be the ones that survive.

    Jinchi: “There is no other purpose for manned spaceflight now and none for the forseeable future.”

    The COTS companies and investors will have to think otherwise, or the investments won’t be there and we won’t have to worry about it because the deal won’t be made. The same goes for cargo transportation to ISS. For manned spaceflight, there’s at least the prospect of NASA ISS transportation business, Bigelow space station business, and space tourism (to ISS, Bigelow habs, or perhaps just orbit or elsewhere). For the launcher part of the COTS proposals (new launchers or improved existing launchers), there’s also other potential launch business to win.

    If there isn’t any other purpose for manned spaceflight now or in the foreseeable future, I’d want to know why NASA is bothering with it at all. It would be much better to stick with unmanned probes in that case.

    Jinchi: “This simply puts a middle man between the objective – the ISS in this case – and the government. And that simply increases the costs required to do the same job.”

    The current situation with the Shuttle and with the ESAS contracts is more one of a middle man (the contractors) between the objective and the government. The goal of the COTS approach is more one where the private company is actually providing the service, and there is no middle man. However, so far the market hasn’t been there in the purely private market to create such a service, so, given the failures of the government/cost-plus contract approach, it makes a lot of sense for NASA to try to get the market “over the hump”, as the Aldridge Commission recommended.

  • al Fansome

    JINCHI: “This simply puts a middle man between the objective – the ISS in this case – and the government.”

    Dear Jinchi,

    What is the objective of the objective (the ISS)? Is it a jobs program? Or is it the first toehold on a new frontier? Or (insert here).

    Within that context, have you thought through the policy implications of what you are proposing?

    Did the airmail contracts, as implemented by the Kelly Act in the 1920s, put a “middle man between the objective and the Government”? If not, how is the current situation different than the old frontier of crew/cargo transportation?

    Did the series of Railroad Acts of the 19th Century put a “middle man between the objective and the Government”? If not, how is the current situation different than this older frontier of crew/cargo transportation?

    If private industry can run the railroads and the airlines much cheaper and safer than the Government — which they obviously can — then why don’t you think private industry can operate routine space transportation chores (like delivering clean underwear, water, air, etc.) to the ISS more cheaply and safely than the Government?

    - Al

  • D. Messier

    Jinchi wrote @ November 24th, 2007 at 11:47 am

    Could we stop pretending that NASA is a large part of the U.S. budget. It’s not. Yet for decades NASA has been accused of stealing food from the mouths of starving children. Supposedly we could have cured cancer, ended poverty and brought peace to the world, if only NASA wasn’t sucking up all the money.

    It is a small part of the overall budget and is not viewed as that important vis-a-vis other priorities. So, this makes it particularly sensitive to overall budget realities. If anything, the space community often pretends that it is, and by right ought to be, above such petty considerations. It’s not. And few people outside of this field believe it is or should be.

  • C. Morford

    All good view points. The problem lies in planning and sustainability, all thinking seems to stop at the moon or mars. Truly planning ahead by this nation on where we want to be 50 to 100 years from now is what we need. Only then can we see what systems we need to develop, instead of using knee jerk budgeting to acomplish short term goals and then boom lack of interest and no funding when the short term is done.

  • Richard Levine

    Why not take a cue from one form of current education funding, with the enhancement of the ‘adventure’ aspect of space-flight, by funding manned space programs with a lottery, with winners entitled to a ride into space?

  • z. topps

    Education problems cannot be solved by throwing money into them. In other countries the education systems receive a fraction of the cost of education here, yet they produce much better results. The education system in the USA sucks, but the remedy is not the money. It is the attitude, sense of responsibility that needs to be instilled into our kids. Fisrt educate the teachers and parents then educate the kids.

    For Constellation, there is nothing wrong with spending money in new technologies as long as they are somewhat useful in our everyday life. While one might think the purpose of Moon and Mars missions is to bring rocks from the space, a broad-minded person can see the benefits in transport communications and defense technologies.

    The main problem is the excessive cost which can be cut down if NASA provides a true leadership in technical sense, rather than acting like a bunch or project managers, and leaving everything to the contractors. Can cost efficiency be achieved? Yes, only when NASA is managed like a business rather than ummmmm. US government ?

  • Martin

    Then, why do Obama not stop the abortion programs? There is a lot of money wasted in programs of abortion rights? Why dont Obama use that money in education?