Congress, NASA

Sentinel: close the gap, because of the Russians

An editorial today in the Orlando Sentinel argues that the US needs to close “the gap” between the shuttle and Orion by increasing NASA’s budget to accelerate Orion. Interestingly, despite Orlando’s proximity to the Space Coast, the editorial doesn’t make the argument primarily out of concerns of any economic displacement in the area that would be created by an extended gap. Instead, the paper’s concerns are based on reliance on the Russians, as US-Russia relations in general deteriorate: “Putting Mr. Putin in the pilot’s seat that long could lead him to jack up the price for U.S. access to space, or use it as a bargaining chip in other disputes.” (The editorial adds that once the shuttle is retired, “U.S. astronauts will have no option but Russian space vehicles until the Constellation program is ready to get off the ground”; apparently the Sentinel is either unfamiliar with COTS or dismissive of its prospects to provide commercial crew transport to and from the ISS.)

The solution: add $2 billion to NASA to accelerate Orion’s introduction to September 2013, as NASA officials outlined in last week’s Senate hearing. “But other lawmakers are reluctant to make that investment,” the editorial states. “Meanwhile, Congress is poised to approve a bill that would dump tens of billions of dollars into subsidies for farms that don’t need them. Go figure.” (It’s easy to figure: the agriculture lobby is far more powerful than the space lobby.) Given the apparent inability of Congress to provide an extra $1 billion for NASA in FY08, getting $2 billion doesn’t seem very likely—especially when some see the program as a source of funding for other programs…

54 comments to Sentinel: close the gap, because of the Russians

  • Charles in Houston

    Certainly any dependence on the Russians is a disaster waiting to happen – they (not to single them out too much) could be good partners as long as they understand that we have options. Any partner, when other options evaporate, has the potential to realize they enjoy the Senior Partner role.

    But the Russians that we are working with have always had a resentment towards the US – partly because they were taught for years that the West was out to get them. Of course it will take them years to undo that damage – and in that time we are going to rely on them for access to a Station that we have spent billions to build?

    But when you talk about adding billions here and billions there – what assurance do we have that the gap will be reduced? There are many technical hurdles that do not respond quickly to the application of further funding. Designs have to be completed, concrete has to cure.

    And where will these additional billions come from? More deficit spending?

    If we were to redirect money, we need to focus on finishing Constellation/Orion and at that time we can spend money on Lunar rovers. We cannot afford those studies now.

    And we need to continue flying the Shuttle (as expensive as it is) until a new vehicle is a LOT closer. Perhaps retire the Shuttle when the first Orion test flight has been completed.

    Charles

  • MarkWhittington

    Seeing as flying the shuttle past 2010 would cost more than two billion a year, I’m not sure why we can afford over ten billion in extra funding but not an extra two billion to advance Orion/Ares. The numbers don’t compute.

  • I agree with Charles – I, too do not like the idea of such a dependence on the Russians. I think the matters are really worse, as the gap is probably more than now envisioned – or have you ever seen a complex project being completed before or on schedule? Especially with a restricted budget?

    The right solution would be to lift the shuttles retirement requirement. They are still in good shape. If e.g. just a single flight per year would be scheduled that would show the US is still capable of reaching space. That would put Russians back from asking too much. All other crew exchanges could still be done with the Russian vehicles…

    Rainer

  • Ray

    Keeping the Shuttle flying would just increase and delay the gap. The Shuttle costs on the order of $4 Billion per year to fly, and Constellation is depending on that money being available just to complete the long schedules it already has. Not only that, but each Shuttle mission is risks another disaster.

    Taking for granted that reducing the ISS crew and cargo gaps is a top NASA priority (which I personally don’t agree with – I don’t consider anything about Shuttle, ISS, or Ares/Orion to be a top NASA priority except insofar as it’s a priority to keep their budgets under control so what I consider real priorities can be addressed … but setting that aside) … the best approaches are to retire the Shuttle early and to fund COTS more adequately.

    Retiring the Shuttle early would free funds to address the gap. The earlier this is done, the less opportunity for disrupting the plan future Administrations will have.

    Even if Ares is going to ISS, it will be very expensive. As a result, for anyone not just interested in the gap, but also lunar plans, it’s critical to fund COTS with the goal of cheaper ISS access. If this succeeds – and it’s in the interests of any COTS vendor to make it succeed so they can get some commercial business that customers can afford – there will be funds left over for lunar plans instead of spending it all on Ares ISS access. COTS would also be critical if Ares/Orion has a disaster.

    Preferably, COTS would be funded well enough that the gap can be significantly reduced. Right now it’s way under-funded considering its ambitious goals. Sending funds to COTS would make a big difference in that program, but sending the same funds to Ares wouldn’t make much difference to that program.

  • D. Messier

    Putin just accused the political opposition in Russia of being in league with Western interests scheming to bring down the country down. In other words, he’s accused us of complicity in treasonous behavior by legitimate political organization trying to operate in Russia’s “democracy.”

    Sadly for us, Bush’s fiscal and foreign policies have left us with mounting debt, stubborn deficits and much more important priorities elsewhere. So, the space program is probably screwed.

  • ISS alum

    Anyone serious about closing the gap would look first at the cheapest, fastest, lowest-risk option – flying on EELVs. The ULA response to the latest COTS RFI shows they can boost a variety of transfer vehicles for both crew and cargo. Some of them are sure to be ready before Constellation even if you poured billions more into it. Once you’re flying on EELV, you can switch to Falcons as soon as they’re proven and become an EELV provider.

    Also, taking ISS off the Constellation destination list removes some nasty requirements from its design, saving time, money, and risk. And, of course, the smartest move would be to scrap Ares and go with an all EELV design.

    As a side note, one family of EELVs uses Russian rocket engines. Relying on Russian companies is not the same as relying on the Russian government, though it could become the same. The record to date is that Russian companies are as reliable as American companies.

  • Ray

    I agree with ISS alum. If I were the relevant NASA decision-maker, I’d give a lot of attention to any COTS cargo (or crew if they’d fund it) proposal that’s quick to implement by virtue of using existing EELVs, and yet that’s compatible with other existing or planned launch vehicles (the other EELV and/or Falcons coming to mind the most). Over the long run, maintaining support for at least 2 independent ISS launch vehicles (even if 1 costs a bit more) would be prudent.

    ISS alum: “Also, taking ISS off the Constellation destination list removes some nasty requirements from its design, saving time, money, and risk. And, of course, the smartest move would be to scrap Ares and go with an all EELV design.”

    I agree with both of these points. Even just the first move (leaving Ares but restricting it to the Moon) would be a great one, as long as COTS is funded well enough to succeed. It would make the ESAS development easier, and get it directed where it should be – the Moon – during the current Administration so accomplishments in that direction would have happened by the next one.

    It would also give potential COTS investors a lot more confidence that their
    ISS business will not be rejected in favor of Ares for political reasons. One always wants a backup in case of disaster, but Russia, Europe, and Japan have, or will have, crew and cargo options, so the advantages of removing Ares ISS capability in a scenario where COTS is adequately funded seem to far outweigh this disadvantage.

  • Charles in Houston

    Fellow Space Enthusiasts -

    Mark W Wrote: [Seeing as flying the shuttle past 2010 would cost more than two billion a year, I’m not sure why we can afford over ten billion in extra funding but not an extra two billion to advance Orion/Ares. The numbers don’t compute.]

    There are so many aspects of the entire conversation that could be addressed, but to try to stay with the original intent of the discussion:

    It would be illuminating to examine the actual numbers that the budgeteers are passing around. Is that 2 billion dollars a one time cost or would it be annual? After the 2 billion was appropriated, would that be the last time that NASA would come ask for more money? Would that money give us a better than 65 percent chance of making 2013?

    By depending on our Russian colleagues, would the costs that we have seen over the last few years stay stable, or would they increase? BTW few people would predict a cost decrease! What would be the final costs of flying the Shuttle another five years vs depending on the Russians for services?

    [controversial statement alert] And don’t we all know that if the decision was announced to continue to fly the Shuttle for another five years, that the budgeteers would suddenly discover that new calculations would show that it was actually cheaper to fly a known, existing, proven system? New mathematical techniques would demonstrate that it was less expensive to fly the Shuttle than to develop and certify a new vehicle.

    The certain fact is that it is far easier to predict and control costs of a flying system than to predict costs of flying on someone else’s vehicles or developing a new one of your own. Any discussion should make this clear up front.

    Now if I could only find time to expound on the real solution – yes, flying on existing, well known vehicles such as the Atlas and Delta!! This entire conversation could easily be recast as a Shuttle vs EELV debate, if only we had the opportunity to debate that. Ah well let us leave that for other forums.

    Charles

  • reader

    somebody really need to ask Elon Musk about the “gap” in human spaceflight. Or Burt Rutan or Jeff Bezos. And what do they they need to “close the gap” earlier.

  • John Provan

    What I don’t understand is why conservatives attack Obama for a theoretical future space policy, while ignoring the fact that the current Bush policy will _guarantee_ that the Russians will hold America’s space access by the cajones for at least five years. Mr. Whittington, can you answer this?

  • D. Messier

    Amen, John.

    Mark, want to take a crack at this? Jim? Anybody?

  • TheBOSS

    Sure, I’ll take a whack at it.

    In my world, anyone who invokes ‘AMEN‘ in a government sponsored launch vehicle development program would be summarily fired.

  • First I’d like to throw a dictionary at TheBOSS.

    Then I’d like to throw “ESAS is NASAs decision” at John Provan and D. Messier. Think NASA can’t handle such a big decision unsupervised? Fair enough (bias: I agree) but then it’s time to blame those who are supposed to provide oversight (which quickly brings you up the food chain to Congress) and then only after you’re through with lambasting them thoroughly does it make sense to continue up the food chain, right? Or are the people who go directly to blaming Bush arguing that the President should have expanded powers to micromanage internal US matters without Congress? Hmm, you guys need to get your feet treated; they’re bleeding profusely…

    Why is it so hard for so many to see the difference between vision and implementation?

  • TheBoss

    Why is it so hard for so many to see the difference between vision and implementation?

    Yes, just like George Bush’ vision and implementation of our space program, we also saw his vision for America’s future and his implementation of that vision unfold before our very eyes, and they were both equally horrific.

    I’m pretty sure what the American electorate is going to say about George Bush’ vision for a New American Century next November, so I’m already working on some viable plans B through E, because your vision is dead.

    I don’t need your religion to make nature’s very own physics work for me.

  • al Fansome

    TheBoss: Yes, just like George Bush’ vision and implementation of our space program, we also saw his vision for America’s future and his implementation of that vision unfold before our very eyes, and they were both equally horrific.

    There has been a major problem with Executive Branch management, and congressional oversight, of NASA for a long time.

    The first Bush Administration had to fire their Administrator (Dick Truly) because he refused to follow the direction of the White House.

    It is quite clear that this Bush Administration just does not care enough about NASA to make NASA adhere to their intent with the VSE.

    - Al

  • John Provan

    “It is quite clear that this Bush Administration just does not care enough about NASA to make NASA adhere to their intent with the VSE.”

    Why do you say that? Griffin claims that he is under a tight rein by OMB and the White House. It seems likely that they are getting exactly what they wanted from him, not that they are ignoring the entire issue. And let’s not forget that in 2004 they promised NASA more money than they have given the agency. At the time, Democrats said that they did not expect NASA to get the money in the five year projection that the administration promised, and they turned out to be right.

  • “And let’s not forget that in 2004 they[White House] promised NASA more money than they[White House] have given the agency.”

    Please read this simple overview of the United States budget process.

    I bet Griffin knows better.

  • al Fansome

    PROVAN: Why do you say that? Griffin claims that he is under a tight rein by OMB and the White House.

    Griffin is under tight monetary controls from the White House. Beyond money, the level of control over VSE implementation by NASA is quite limited.

    Part of the problem is the Bushies have been so focused on the war over the last couple of years, and civil space policy is near the bottom of the totem pole in competing priorities within the White House.

    Part of the problem is that the White House staff who wrote the VSE policy language is gone, and the new staff who replaced them is much less aggressive about implementing the intent of that VSE policy.

    I am not sure why that is. Maybe they are not as passionate about the policy since it is not “their” policy. Maybe they are “go along to get along” kinds of guys. Maybe they are lazy, on top of being fearful of NASA, and don’t want to do the heavy-lifting required to make NASA do the right thing.

    I just know that it is clear as day that the train is going off the rails at NASA — and they have had plenty of warning — and as far as I can tell the WH has not provided any adult supervision.

    I do not work within the Administration, so I would welcome anybody with more knowledge than I to correct the record.

    - Al

  • Chuck Longton

    John Provan: November 24th, 2007 at 11:04 pm
    It seems likely that they are getting exactly what they wanted from him”

    I disagree. What was asked for by the WH and Congress was a Shuttle-Derived solution to protect the political landscape. What the solution started out as was the most expensive version of the Shuttle-Derived solution that the ESAS had to offer. It has changed sense then and isn’t even Shuttle-Derived anymore, and it is even more expensive than when it started. It only “looks” like Shuttle Derived. No, what they are getting is what M.G. wanted to build back in the ’80s & ’90s. It’s only gotten this far off track because (1) the WH announced the policy and then walked away from it and (2) The Congress is doing a bad job of oversight. If either one were to take a serious look at what MG is doing, they would immediately see that NASA is bearing down on the cliff edge at top speed. Somebody better do something very proactive very quickly or the entire manned spaceflight program is going to go over the edge.

  • “What was asked for by the WH”

    Where is the evidence for this? No one in the White House, to my knowledge, asked for a Shuttle-derived solution. In fact, at the staff level, there was considerable (if ultimately unsuccessful) push back on ESAS (attempts to delay release, etc.). The National Security Council and the Office of Management and Budget both vastly preferred less costly EELV solutions that made better use of shared assets.

    “and Congress was a Shuttle-Derived solution to protect the political landscape.”

    The timing on this is backwards. Congress passed an authorization bill endorsing a Shuttle-derived solution only after ESAS results were released. Congress, as a body, did not mandate such a solution, certainly not before ESAS.

    I have my own two-bit theory that Griffin may have been pressured by the likes of Senators Hutchison and Nelson to ensure the continued employment of the Shuttle workforce as a quid pro quo for his nomination. But we’ll probably never have evidence for such backroom deals, and it’s obviously very different from a legislative mandate.

    “No, what they are getting is what M.G. wanted to build back in the ’80s & ’90s.”

    Yes and no. Although heavy lift remains a common theme, there are considerable differences between the ALS-type boosters that were envisioned under SEI, the Shuttle-C type heavy lifter Griffin advocated under Option C for the Clinton ISS redesign, and Ares I/V. Different mixes of liquid/solid boosters (from none to some to heavy use of solids), different booster/payload configurations (in-line versus side-by-side), different levels of reusability (partial to almost none), etc.

    “What the solution started out as was the most expensive version of the Shuttle-Derived solution that the ESAS had to offer. It has changed sense then and isn’t even Shuttle-Derived anymore, and it is even more expensive than when it started. It only “looks” like Shuttle Derived… It’s only gotten this far off track because (1) the WH announced the policy and then walked away from it and (2) The Congress is doing a bad job of oversight. If either one were to take a serious look at what MG is doing, they would immediately see that NASA is bearing down on the cliff edge at top speed. Somebody better do something very proactive very quickly or the entire manned spaceflight program is going to go over the edge.”

    History aside, I strongly agree with this projection.

    FWIW…

  • Paul F. Dietz

    Somebody better do something very proactive very quickly or the entire manned spaceflight program is going to go over the edge.

    And this is an exceedingly perilous time for this to have happened, with the dollar falling in a way not seen in a generation and the housing market in the US unravelling (with the potential for bad debt to exceed that of the Savings and Load crisis by an order of magnitude.) If the euro displaces the dollar as the international reserve currency of choice then the ability of the US government to run deficits, or even service its existing debt, will be permanently impaired.

  • Paul is entirely correct. Mismanagement of our economy is currently a far bigger threat to space exploration of any kind than is any particular architecture or strategy. The current Administration has created or made worse so many intractable problems, this is likely to remain true for the foreseeable future.

    – Donald

  • Chuck2200

    {i]I have my own two-bit theory that Griffin may have been pressured by the likes of Senators Hutchison and Nelson to ensure the continued employment of the Shuttle workforce as a quid pro quo for his nomination. But we’ll probably never have evidence for such backroom deals, and it’s obviously very different from a legislative mandate.[/i]

    I’ll offer this as an opinion because the documentation is “not available”. I am unsure of the “specific” timing of all this so cut me a little slack in that regard please.

    ESAS was formulated to specifically portray Shuttle-Derived in a positive light. It was heavily influenced by [b]a specific[/b] pro-STS lobby and several very influential “others”. One source with whom I am personally acquainted, and who was involved with ESAS, has detailed to me a back-room type of deal similar to what you speculate on, but with a twist, the selection of the Administrator. The W.H. was provided, by certain influential Republican members of Congress, with a list of acceptable candidates for Administrator to replace O’Keefe, based on their known preferences for STS derived hardware and their likelihood of following the recommendation of implementing an STS derived architecture, along with a carefully worded “request” to limit the selection to someone on that list. The internal selection process at the W.H. was narrowed to Mike Griffin from this list as the one to get the nod. During and in concert with his confirmation hearings, it was made clear to him why he had been selected and what was expected of him. The Ares architecture is what resulted.

    Mike Griffin is a fine man and an accomplished engineer and I have no cause to speak against him. But it is reasonably common knowledge that all high-placed positions in the Bush Administration come with strings attached. Those were his, which he was happy to accept, because it’s what he already believed in and wanted to do anyway. He was offered his dream job. In his position, I doubt there is any one of us who wouldn’t have done the same.

    Unfortunately for all of us, the Ares-I isn’t cooperating like everyone had hoped and this is now causing a great deal of heartburn on the 9th floor. It remains to be seen if they can pull this one out of the fire.

    The story of how we got Ares. As I said above, I am offering this in the form of an opinion. YMMV. Now one man’s opinions aren’t worth much without corroboration, so just take this fwiw.

  • Al Fansome

    Chuck,

    That is an interesting rumor that smells true. Let me flesh out how this may fit with other pieces of data.

    I have little doubt that space-state Senators would make “suggestions” to the WH for NASA Administrator. Often these Hill suggestions go on deaf ears — but by all reports the WH was having a LOT of trouble finding somebody willing to take the NASA job. So, it may be that the “suggestion” came at a very good time.

    Obviously, that list would include *only* people who were pre-filtered to be acceptable to whichever Senator sent the list. An STS-derived system (which the Griffin-led Planetary Society report mentioned) probably appealed to that Senator.

    I have also heard (e.g., rumor) that Griffin was taken into the White House — to brief OSTP on that same Planetary Society study report. The funniest part of the rumor is that Lori Garver (the Clinton campaign space policy advisor) reportedly is the person who took Griffin into the White House. Since Ms. Garver represented (represents?) the Planetary Society, this makes sense.

    I heard that the WH OSTP was struck by the fact that here, in the Griffin-led Planetary Society study, was at least somebody who had a plan.

    NOTE: These rumors are not mutually exclusive. Griffin briefed his PS-study report to the Hill also. The Hill could well have sent his name over to the WH too.

    CHUCK2200: But it is reasonably common knowledge that all high-placed positions in the Bush Administration come with strings attached. Those were his, which he was happy to accept, because it’s what he already believed in and wanted to do anyway. He was offered his dream job.

    I suggest taking this one layer deeper. Everybody knew that Griffin wanted the Administrator job. He led the PS-study report and came to WDC to actively market it. He clearly was using this study report as part of his campaign to get the job.

    HYPOTHESIS: One obvious part of the Griffin marketing strategy would be to persuade key Senators to “suggest” to the WH to hire Griffin. If you are Griffin, you go out of your way to point out the STS-derived strategy to the Senator(s); and how you as Administrator promise to NOT conduct any RIFs while you are Administrator. That we need to keep more expertise inside the agency (and cut off the RIFs that O’Keefe was looking at). Therefore, IMO, if the job came with strings attached, it was not because the WH attached the strings … it is probably because Mike Griffin attached them.

    Of course this is pure speculation & hunch.

    YMMV+FWIW,

    - Al

  • spectaculator

    You guys can speculate all you want, but that isn’t going to solve the problems that George W. Bush, Michael Griffin and the senators have created for US.

    You’ll just have to trust me that this one problem is a real big problem.

    Could you guys maybe focus on some solutions?

  • Al Fansome

    Dear Spectaculator,

    I understand your frustration, but in all fairness, both Anon and I (and others, such as Muncy, Ray, Robertson, Goff) have written at length here (and elsewhere) about solutions.

    Writing about a solution, and implementing a solution, are two different things.

    Anyways, a little fun (and informed) speculation should be allowed.

    - Al

  • Keith Cowing

    Chuck 2020 imagines that “The W.H. was provided, by certain influential Republican members of Congress, with a list of acceptable candidates for Administrator to replace O’Keefe, based on their known preferences for STS derived hardware and their likelihood of following the recommendation of implementing an STS derived architecture, along with a carefully worded “request” to limit the selection to someone on that list.”

    Sorry Chuck. That simply did not happen.

  • “An STS-derived system (which the Griffin-led Planetary Society report mentioned)”

    In all this speculation, I’d be careful not to make too much of the Planetary Society study. It mentioned an SRB-derived crew booster as only one among several alternatives, and made no specific recommendation on what launch system(s) should replace the Space Shuttle.

    The main thrust of the study was that there are many, less costly, and safer alternatives to the Space Shuttle that would also support human space exploration. Therefore, in the report’s view, there was little reason to continue flying Shuttle after Columbia, and NASA should proceed immediately to a launch system that could support both the ISS and human space exploration.

    By continuing to fly Shuttle through 2010, Griffin arguably ignored the central recommendation of his own report.

    FWIW…

  • Chuck2200

    Sorry Chuck. That simply did not happen.

    Maybe it did, maybe it didn’t. But based upon what I am personally aware of, it is my personal position. I prefaced my post by stating that I was offering an “opinion”. It is a scenario that fits all the facts as I know them, and drew the conclusion. I ended by stating that YMMV.

    Keith, I am quite sure that you have your reasons, which you in good conscience consider valid, for your position. I likewise have mine as well. In the atmosphere that this President and this Administrator have created, it is unfortunate that so many people need to resort to “informed speculation” to make sense out of what they see. This is one such situation. I offered my “informed speculation” for consideration.

    Again, YMMV, and you are entitled to that, as are we all.

  • Keith Cowing

    Speculate away. But it did not happen that way Chuck2020.

  • Chuck Longton

    If you say so. I won’t argue the merrits of differing opinions.

  • Chuck2200

    Keith,
    I told you that was my personal opinion and that YMMV.
    I doubt that your position is any more or less valid than mine.

  • Keith Cowing

    Chuck2200 says “I doubt that your position is any more or less valid than mine.”

    Wrong. My “position” is based on facts and knowing the individuals involved the events here in Washington DC. I have no idea where you came up with your fantasy version of events.

  • Chuck2200

    I have no idea where you came up with your fantasy version of events.

    I was walking on the Mall one day and tripped over it. Maybe one day I’ll clue you in. Have a nice day.

  • Could you consider sharing those facts and knowledge as well as your reasoning Keith Cowing? When you don’t do that you lose by default to anyone who does.

  • Keith Cowing

    Mr, Hermit (his real name) says “Could you consider sharing those facts and knowledge as well as your reasoning Keith Cowing? When you don’t do that you lose by default to anyone who does.”

    Chuck2200 has no “facts”. Griffin campaigned for the job. All of the people on the WH wish list had already said no. There was no shuttle litmus test.

  • Getting back to the original topic of Mr. Foust’s post, I’d debate whether Russian dependence is a good reason to spend billions closing the gap. The Florida Today editorial is wrong for several reasons:

    1) The Russian space program is just as dependent on NASA Soyuz and Progress purchases as the ISS is dependent on Soyuz and Progress flights. Even with Putin’s recent faux sabre-rattling, the Russians have little incentive to refuse U.S. Soyuz/Progress purchases and the much-needed cash cow that those purchases represent for their space program. For the Russians to ever refuse such purchases, something dramatically bad will have to go wrong in U.S./Russian relations, and in that event, the United States will probably have much more important things to worry about than the ISS.

    2) Even with NASA over a barrel during the “gap”, Russia could double or triple the cost of Soyuz and Progress purchases and they’d only start approaching the operations costs of equivalent U.S. systems (whether Ares I/Orion, EELV/CEV, or COTS). From a fiscal and budgetary point-of-view, it’s actually in U.S. and NASA’s interests to use cheaper Russian labor and the Soyuz and Progress vehicles for as long as possible.

    3) No doubt the United States would like to have levers with which to influence domestic Russian politics, especially Putin’s recent grabs for power. But the multi-national and cumbersome nature of the ISS partnership makes the ISS a poor instrument for doing so. Even if the situation was reversed and the Russians were reliant on the United States for ISS access, it would be a slow and difficult process to take action against Russia (e.g., denying cosmonauts access) or any other ISS member under the partnership agreements. Technically, it might not even be possible, given the roll of Russian ground control.

    I’d also argue that the Florida Today editorial’s suggestion that Congress pony up an additional $2 billion to accelerate Ares I/Orion to 2013 is also misguided, for several reasons:

    1) It’s not enough money. If we read Griffin’s recent testimony carefully, to have a shot at accelerating Ares I/Orion to 2013, NASA estimates $2 billion only through _2010_. Additional funds, probably another couple billion dollars, will still be needed in 2011, 2012, and 2013 to keep Ares I/Orion on track for 2013. Development programs like Ares I/Orion need smooth funding curves (ideally resembling a bell curve) — they can’t absorb large step functions (up or down) going from one year to the next.

    2) Even if Congress came up with another few billion taxpayer dollars to accelerate Ares I/Orion, it would be a bad bet given all the current technical and schedule issues with the program. The Ares I project has recently identified vibration issues in the 5-segment SRB and POGO issues in the upper stage, either of which threaten to shake the vehicle and payload apart. NASA won’t have the solution to these problems until Spring 2008, delaying the Ares I PDR six months and adding pressure to the schedule. And barring a structural miracle, the solution to these problems will almost certainly require substantial additional mass, further eroding Ares I performance and putting even more pressure on Orion and Ares I to trade safety for weight elsewhere in both systems. As a result, key design decisions about Ares I reusability (critical for safety trend tracking), redundant systems on Orion (critical for reliability), non-water landings for Orion (critical for abort modes), and radiation shielding (obvious safety implications) continue to be deferred, adding more pressure to the schedule. At some point, NASA can’t keep deferring major design decision and reviews without impacting the 2015 Ares I/Orion readiness date. (It may have already happened.) Until these technical issues and their consequent schedule impacts are known, adding money to these programs to ostensibly accelerate their schedule risks throwing taxpayer dollars down the drain. Even without all these technical and schedule issues, the Ares I/Orion budget has only a 65 percent chance of making 2015 — there’s already a 1-in-3 chance that the program will slip before these issues are addressed or new money is added.

    3) As ISS Alum and Ray already pointed out, there are just better and multiple options out there to rapidly and efficiently close the gap if we’re really serious about doing so. $2 billion would _quintuple_ the NASA funds going towards COTS. Or $2 billion could human-rate one EELV (maybe even both EELVs) for launching Orion or another CEV. If started soon, either of these solutions promise test flights and operable vehicles well before even an accelerated 2013 Ares I/Orion readiness date.

    Finally, several posters argued that Shuttle operations should be extended beyond 2010 to close the gap. This won’t work and is actually quite dangerous, for a couple reasons

    1) Extending Shuttle operations just defers the gap, it does not shorten it. If Congress can’t get a $1 billion increase for NASA out of conference, then there’s no way Congress can pass the $4-5 billion _annual_ increase that NASA would require to keep the Shuttle operational. Instead, those funds would come out of Constellation, deferring the readiness date for Ares I/Orion (or whatever replaces it) even further. Extending Shuttle operations shifts the 5-year gap further into the future, but it does not shorten it to a smaller number of years. Worse, the CAIB advised that the entire Shuttle system undergo a multi-billion dollar recertification process if operations are going to be extended beyond 2010. Even if we’re willing to push Shuttle’s replacement further into the future, the funding to recertify the Shuttle does not exist.

    2) Maintaining Shuttle operations at all is (forgive the pun) just playing Russian roulette with astronaut lives, the ISS, and NASA’s human space flight program. The Shuttle has a demonstrated 1-in-60 (or so) chance of a LOC/LOM event, and the program has yet to resolve the underlying technical problems that led to the Columbia accident. (The most recent Shuttle flight had more ET foam loss than any prior Shuttle flight with foam loss tracking — it’s just dumb luck that none of it hit any Orbiter TPS at sufficient speeds to do damage.) No political leader or NASA manager should be advocating an extension to Shuttle — please excuse the drama, but they risk winding up with blood on their hands. In fact, NASA, White House, and Congressional leadership should be finding a way to get off the Shuttle ASAP.

    Regardless of whether it’s NASA jobs, minor worries about Russia, or imaginary Chinese lunar programs — none of which I find particularly compelling but let’s go with it — if we really want to close the gap, here’s the broad outlines of a reasonable plan for doing so:

    1) Shut down the Space Shuttle program after the last major foreign ISS component is up in early 2008. Although most of the remaining 2008 Shuttle budget would have to go towards shutdown and contract termination costs, we should be able to salvage most of the 2009 and 2010 budgets, something on the order of $7-8 billion (call it $7.5 billion). And we avoid the unnecessary risks involved in flying the Shuttle longer.

    2) Terminate Ares I now. It’s an unnecessary duplication of existing military/commercial launchers and commercial launchers under development. Worse, the underperforming design is suffering from major technical issues that are putting it and Orion into a spiral of dangerous cuts to safety systems to save mass, possibly to the point where the system cannot fly at all. Out of $10 billion or so total development pricetag for Ares I, we should be able to save the vast majority of the funding, roughly accounting for what’s been expended to date and contract termination costs. Call it another $7.5 billion in savings through 2015. Combined with the Shuttle savings, that’s $15 billion from 2008-2015 that can go towards other activities.

    3) Reallocate some of the savings, say $5 billion, to human-rate EELVs and to acclerate/diversify/ensure COTS. $2.5 billion should be adequate to human-rate both EELVs given a reasonable re-examination of NASA’s human-rating requirements. We have not touched Orion’s funding, so Orion could still be ready to fly on those EELVs when its ready. (Although I would probably shrink Orion’s requirements to ensure that its safety systems can be bought back.) Another $2.5 billion to COTS should also be adequate to bring at least a couple new, cost-shared commercial systems online before 2013, presumably Falcon 9/Dragon and something else.

    4) Use the remaining $10 billion to get some actual exploration programs and hardware underway. Assuming the near-term target is still the Moon, I’d probably restore and competitively restructure (e.g., prizes, Discovery-type AOs, etc.) the RLEP program for rapid results to get some momentum going on the robotic side. If the target is no longer the Moon, there’s also great robotic missions to be restored to Mars, the outer moons, and for extrasolar planet-hunting telescopes. On the human side, I’ll leave it up to others whether a heavy lift or in-space propellant servicing architecture makes the most sense for whatever human target is chosen (Moon, deep space telescope support, asteroids, Mars/Phobos, etc.). But the point would be to get the NASA workforce going on that (instead of reinventing the ETO wheel) and offer the new President and Congress in 2009 options all on the wonderful things that NASA can get started in exploration without asking for another dime — instead of asking for billions more to fix the same old ETO access problem that we’ve been fumbling with since Apollo.

    My 2 cents… FWIW…

  • realist

    That’s all fine and dandy, but … ahem … you understand that, barring a miracle that surely will not occur, America is not going back to the moon at all anymore, not with any VSE, not with any ESAS, not with any EELVs, nor with Falcons, certainly not with the ISS or space shuttle, not at all, anymore, nada.

    What you have done is performed a futile exercise based on misplaced optimism. In the real world, we call that a shell game. The game is over.

  • D. Messier

    A little bit of insight into our Russian ISS partners:

    http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5gPKmb_U3vgO0EV1iFRDCgCUuZrWQD8T65AUO1

    My God. Threatening to throw hospital patients out on the street. No telling where this could eventually lead.

  • “barring a miracle that surely will not occur, America is not going back to the moon at all anymore”

    It depends on the next President. If the next White House leaves the door open, as the Clinton campaign is now doing, a U.S. human lunar return may still happen over the next 15 or so years. But if the next White House shuts the door and even delays Shuttle’s replacement, as the Obama campaign wants to do, it’s hard to say when a U.S. human lunar return will happen and if NASA’s human space flight programs will be involved.

    Based on Bigelow, Space-X, and Google Lunar X-Prize progress, I actually think NASA’s human space flight programs have about 10 to 20-years remaining to regain their relevance in a government-unique frontier role before private sector developments overtake them. No doubt Griffin & Co. have wasted the opportunity that the Bush II White House gave NASA in this regard. Whether the next President or two gives NASA another opportunity like Bush II did remains to be seen, but no doubt, NASA’s chances are getting slimmer.

    “What you have done is performed a futile exercise based on misplaced optimism.”

    It’s just one viable budget scenario, created to make points about tradeoffs between NASA’s programmatic alternatives. Similar (and much more detailed) analyses are performed every day in government and the private sector. Just because these budget exercises are not adopted in full or in part does not mean that they’re not valuable for exploring options, understanding tradeoffs, and informing decisions. They are in no way “futile” exercises.

    You’re also making assumptions about my levels of optimism. Just because I run through a rough budget exercise to illustrate programmatic tradeoffs doesn’t mean that I’m optimistic that the current NASA leadership can overcome their human egos and make similar decisions, that the current White House has enough time to spare to give NASA’s human space flight programs the parental stewardship they so desperately need, or that Congress can be brave and visionary enough to see that their NASA human space flight workforce constituents are better off working on future projects with a unique government role rather than clinging to a past that duplicates private sector capabilities.

    “In the real world, we call that a shell game.”

    That’s a misuse of the term “shell game”. I fully admit that the budget exercise above is just one scenario. That’s doesn’t make it a “shell game”. A “shell game” would claim dollars that don’t exist, which the exercise above does not.

    FWIW…

  • “A little bit of insight into our Russian ISS partners”

    Actually, this article about ESA/Russian cooperation on lunar lander and space station studies piqued my interest:

    flightglobal.com/articles/2007/11/27/219856/esa-considers-lunar-lander-proposal.html

    Just a mere study, but if such developments are followed up on, perhaps a shade of future ISS and Constellation irrelevance to come.

    FWIW…

  • reality based

    That’s a misuse of the term “shell game”

    That’s funny, Nero fiddles with NASA’s budget, while Rome burns.

    Your ignorance of the big picture is, well, let’s just say I’m astonished, again.

    Astonishment is an everyday occurrence in America now, and I mean that in the most unkind way.

  • “That’s funny, Nero fiddles with NASA’s budget, while Rome burns.”

    Ah, it’s “Elifritz” again.

    “Your ignorance”

    Have you returned to debate arguments, logic, and facts? Or are you just resuming your prior pattern of insulting other posters in the absence of any substance?

    “of the big picture is, well, let’s just say I’m astonished, again.”

    Oh, yes, Dr. Big Picture, please, come down from your mountain with your crystal ball and reveal the future in all its gory detail for us visionless masses…

    [rolls eyes]

    Do you have any specifics to offer or just more insults?

    “Astonishment is an everyday occurrence in America now, and I mean that in the most unkind way.”

    Okey-dokey.

    How much you want to bet that you start hurling epithets in your next post?

    Bleah…

  • Mr. Big Picture

    Oh, yes, Dr. Big Picture, please, come down from your mountain with your crystal ball and reveal the future in all its gory detail for us visionless

    Bankruptcy. Unless you think you can print money forever, or that the rest of the world will continue to prop up a totally failed regime forever.

    I give you two years at most. This next election will seal your fate.

    It will be all over by 2012, unless …

    (That won’t involve fiddling with NASA’s paltry numbers)

  • “Bankruptcy.”

    If that’s the point you wanted to make, why didn’t you make it in your first post?

    Or are you just trolling?

    “Unless you think you can print money forever”

    I hate to disappoint you, but I can’t print money at all without going to jail.

    “or that the rest of the world will continue to prop up a totally failed regime forever”

    If you’re referring to Bush II, obviously the world is not going to prop up the current Administraiton “forever”. G.W. Bush’s term comes to an end in January 2009. Duh…

    “I give you two years at most.”

    To do what? Find your meds?

    “This next election will seal your fate.”

    Who the heck do you think I am? Cheney?

    “It will be all over by 2012″

    A couple hints for delusional and uninformed…

    1) The “next election” will be held a year from now, not two or four years from now.

    2) Bush II cann’t be on the ticket, anyway.

    “unless …”

    You take your meds?

    “That won’t involve fiddling with NASA’s paltry numbers”

    Which, unlike crazed ramblings about the U.S. debt and mis-dated references to the upcoming election, is actually a relevant topic for this forum.

    [rolls eyes]

    Who hid this nutcase’s meds again?

    Ugh…

  • Dr. Know

    “Bankruptcy.”

    If that’s the point you wanted to make, why didn’t you make it in your first post?

    I guess I just assumed it was self evident to the well informed American.

    To do what? Find your meds?

    A couple hints for delusional and uninformed…

    You take your meds?

    crazed ramblings

    Who hid this nutcase’s meds again?

    The national debt and impending US bankruptcy is indeed a frightening problem. I can understand completely why you are unable to rationally address this problem. You certainly haven’t disappointed me there.

    I won’t try to correct your misunderstandings out of respect for the forum.

  • “I guess I just assumed it was self evident to the well informed American.”

    Here’s your original post:

    “That’s funny, Nero fiddles with NASA’s budget, while Rome burns.

    Your ignorance of the big picture is, well, let’s just say I’m astonished, again.

    Astonishment is an everyday occurrence in America now, and I mean that in the most unkind way.”

    How can anyone — well-informed American or not — get national debt out of the obtuse cliches and and personal insults in this post?

    “The national debt and impending US bankruptcy is indeed a frightening problem.”

    While I might quibble about projections of “bankruptcy” (e.g., the deficit is actually going down again), I agree that the national debt poses real threats to U.S. going forward.

    But if you want to discuss that topic, a blog about space policy is not the right forum.

    And regardless of where you discuss it, starting off by throwing personal insults at other posters, trolling with posts that don’t identify your intended topic, and making incoherent posts that confuse election dates and that conflate the identity of posters with some unidentified national figure is not the way to do it.

    “I can understand completely why you are unable to rationally address this problem. You certainly haven’t disappointed me there.

    I won’t try to correct your misunderstandings out of respect for the forum.”

    Ugh… either grow up or go away.

    Free free to reply but I’m tuning out of this conversation.

  • Ray

    anonymous.space: “Regardless of whether it’s NASA jobs, minor worries about Russia, or imaginary Chinese lunar programs — none of which I find particularly compelling but let’s go with it — if we really want to close the gap, here’s the broad outlines of a reasonable plan for doing so:”

    >>> plan snipped

  • Ray

    Well, that last post go chopped … here’s the rest (if it works):

    It sounds like a much better plan to reduce the gap than what we have now (or the extra $2B and probably more Administrator Griffin is asking for to reduce the gap). Not only should it be able to reduce the gap better than that plan, but it would:

    - give a better chance for COTS to produce ISS crew and cargo transportation capabilities (the current plan risks this by underfunding COTS, potentially leaving Ares I/Orion, even if finished on time, too busy resupplying ISS to do anything else). This is a huge advantage for NASA and ISS, but also for commercial space in general (eg: Bigelow, anyone needing a launcher).

    - go even farther than it sounds with the $2.5B for EELV man-rating and the $2.5 additional for COTS, because COTS proposals could take advantage of man-rated EELVs, and the commercial investment side could also look forward to awards/business from Bigelow (starting with the 700M+ proposed incentives from Bigelow/Space Florida).

    - allow more near-term robotic science/engineering missions (eg: the RLEP) to bring the science side of NASA back in the program, to return science/engineering results earlier, and to bring near-term business to launchers and satellite vendors

    - allow NASA to really start the Moon program (or some other big project) ASAP

    - orient the NASA workforce that’s at risk from Constellation cancellation (by the next President for other priorities, by endless delays causing political frustrations, by technical showstoppers, or by another accident) to a much more resiliant set of programs with no single point of failure (multiple launchers, multiple space vehicles, and multiple government and commercial sources of new business)

    - allow multiple paths for international participation (without the disadvantages of the ISS form of cooperation) in the near term (eg: the RLEP missions, potentially the “new big manned program” depending on the details of that, contributing U.S. cargo/crew launches to international missions, etc)

  • Clarity of Thought

    making incoherent posts that confuse election dates

    Any confusion is your own. You would have to be a pretty incompetent administrator not to be able to make LEO, space solar power and the Earth and Space sciences work out extremely well, with 17 billion dollars a year, after cutting VSE and ESAS out of the picture completely, and just restoring what once was, given the assets we have at our disposal. You completely underestimate the magnitude of the problems fabricated out of complete nothingness, which this administration has inflicted upon our scientific institutions, by an order of magnitude at least. VSE and ESAS are dead.

    I am not kidding you. You are not helping matters here at all.

    It’s that serious. You just can’t see it, can you.

  • “It sounds like a much better plan to reduce the gap than what we have now”

    Thanks, Ray. Keep up the good work at spaceprizes.blogspot.com.

    “Not only should it be able to reduce the gap better than that plan”

    I should mention that because Shuttle is terminated in 2008, the gap cannot be closed completely in that scenario. But what gap is left would be accelerated forward in time, rather than being pushed out and extended in time. Moreover, going back to the Florida Today editorial and Mr. Foust’s original post, there’s a high likelihood that, between the conservative EELV bets and the multiple COTS bets, that at least one U.S. system would be flying by 2012, when NASA will no longer be able to purchase Ruskie Soyuz/Progress flights (unless new legislation is passed).

    That is not a terribly original thought, as Mr. Muncy, you, and others have made similar arguments on this forum in the past. But this scenario puts some basic budget numbers and Shuttle/Ares offsets on the table to illustrate the tradeoffs.

    “- go even farther than it sounds with the $2.5B for EELV man-rating and the $2.5 additional for COTS, because COTS proposals could take advantage of man-rated EELVs,”

    Good point about the COTS/EELV synergy. I was mainly making bets on both so that there was a conservative investment (EELV with Orion or other CEV) to back up the aggressive investment (COTS). But they could benefit each other, too.

    “and the commercial investment side could also look forward to awards/business from Bigelow (starting with the 700M+ proposed incentives from Bigelow/Space Florida).”

    Also a good point about the potential synergy with Bigelow. It’s probably asking too much of NASA’s human space flight safety culture, but ideally NASA would completely rewrite its human rating requirements with Bigelow, FAA, USAF, etc. inputs, in addition to industry inputs. As the latest entry at rocketsandsuch.blogspot.com notes, the new list of Orion requirements — all 22,000 of them — is astoundingly complex for a vehicle that needs to operate simply and safely. (And the decisions on the big safety swingers still have to be made.) NASA desperately needs to start over on its approach astronaut safety.

    “- allow multiple paths for international participation (without the disadvantages of the ISS form of cooperation) in the near term (eg: the RLEP missions, potentially the “new big manned program” depending on the details of that, contributing U.S. cargo/crew launches to international missions, etc)”

    The key to early international participation is to open up all possible systems — at the industry-to-industry level — to foreign components and contributions. Unfortunately, this is something that Griffin ruled out until U.S. astronauts are landing on the Moon.

    Thanks again.

  • D. Messier

    WaPo has more on the parliamentary elections in today’s issue. An opposition candidate was shot to death. Opposition campaign workers beaten, arrested and detained across the country. State controlled television has openly ridiculed opposition candidates. No access to billboards or advertising space. Heavy pressure on people to vote for Putin’s party or face retribution. Apparent threats to cut off the heat of Siberian pensioners if they don’t vote for United Russia.

    There are bad parallels here to the Nazi era. I just finished reading a history of that period. It’s scary. U.S.-Russians could really take a major turn for the worse in the years ahead. It worries that we’ll could be dependent upon them for space access.

  • Keen Observer

    It worries that we’ll could be dependent upon them for space access.

    Fortunately, those fears aren’t that critical, as the American Soyuz is well on its way, and should be flying well before 2012. What most of US working in the field of launch vehicle architecture are worried about is the rather large gap in the launch vehicle spectrum, between the ISS and Ares, and our vision of a credible and sustainable space development and colonization strategy embodied by the commercial space flight paradigm – COTS.

    As laid out in my COTS proposal, we expect that any credible architecture conceived to fill that rapidly expanding gap between our ultra high end assets and the mid-range systems currently existent or under commercial development, will literally drag the low end of suborbital and nascent COTS competitors up into the mid-range, which is the purpose of the exercise.

  • Another follow-up to Ray’s post. Ray wrote:

    “It sounds like a much better plan to reduce the gap than what we have now…

    – allow multiple paths for international participation (without the disadvantages of the ISS form of cooperation) in the near term… contributing U.S. cargo/crew launches to international missions”

    There’s a similar concept in an Air & Space article here (add http://www):

    .airspacemag.com/issues/2008/december-january/bigelow.php

    where Bigelow indicates that he’s going to invest in a single capsule that could fly on multiple launch vehicles to service his inflatable stations. Here’s the relevant quote:

    “So, rather than wait around for the launch industry to deliver, Bigelow is reluctantly entering the arena as a player. “I didn’t want to fight a two-front war,” he says. But, by the time this article is published, he expects to have announced his investment in a new space capsule. “We’re making a capital investment in the creation of a capsule for crew and cargo, one that will have a common interface that can be placed on a [Russian] Proton rocket, a human-rated Atlas, or possibly Musk’s Falcon 9,” he says. It will be a seven-person capsule, big enough to carry people to the large BA 330 stations. “We won’t be designing the capsule, but we’ll be very active investors,” he says.”

    FWIW…

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