What’s in a name

As noted in the comments of the previous post, NASA is changing the name of the Vision for Space Exploration to the rather more prosaic “U.S. Space Exploration Policy”. Why it’s making the change, and whether the change was at NASA’s own instigation or at the request of the White House, is the subject of only speculation, given there has been no formal public announcement of the change (and terms like “Exploration Vision” can still be found on the NASA web site.)

Today’s Washington Post reports that, in an effort to raise public awareness of and interest in the Vision, er, Policy, the agency has hired an advertising firm to “brand” (a word the article uses twice, both times in quotes) the exploration effort. But the Post article itself appears to blundered, noting in several places in the article that the overall exploration program is called “Constellation”. In fact, Constellation refers to the spacecraft and launch vehicles that will help carry out the Vis, er, Policy: Ares 1, Ares 5, Orion, and the Altair lunar lander. These are central to the implementation of the, um, Policy, but they are not one and the same. Opponents of the current direction of NASA’s exploration program, like Robert Farquhar, are not necessarily opposed to elements of it like Constellation: in one speech he described studies that looked at how Ares and Orion could be used for human missions to near Earth objects instead of the Moon.

Unless, of course, those advertisers have decided that the U.S. Space Exploration Policy should be rebranded as Constellation.

11 comments to What’s in a name

  • Ray

    Jeff: “the agency has hired an advertising firm to “brand” (a word the article uses twice, both times in quotes) the exploration effort.”

    From the article: “The agency will pay it $160,000 to better “brand” Constellation and other projects.”

    If they mean that word in the sense of using a sizzling hot iron to wake up the program and get it to fix some of its genuine deep-rooted problems, then I’m all for it.

    If they’re just going to have a marketing campaign to try to convince everyone how great Constellation/ESAS is, akin to the NASA communication strategy effort last year that raised so many eyebrows, my advise is to reroute the money to some small program where it can make a useful difference like Centennial Challenges, Arecibo, a focused university space project, purchasing some NewSpace rides of the existing UP/JP variety, or a restarted NIAC.

    This isn’t supposed to be some boring bureaucratic paperwork program on some obcure tax regulation or something like that that requires special marketing attention so the public knows what’s going on. It’s the space program. If it’s done reasonably close to the right way, the marketing will take care of itself.

    I’m of the opinion that practically everyone in the general public knows that NASA has some kind of Moon plan. Just 30 minutes ago I heard them say it on some dumb “Candid Camera” type TV show. Most of the general public has probably heard it countless times, but has discounted, and ignores, the NASA plan since they don’t believe NASA will pull it off, or it’s too many years away to care about.

    What will get the public’s attention? At least some of the following 3 would help:

    1. Interim results – soon. LRO is a start, and so is GRAIL. A lot more is needed.

    2. Commercial participation – soon. Get more people on your side that can produce results sooner, and they’ll be praising the program, and doing things that the public will notice (like commercial business enabled by the VSE business).

    3. Do your big NASA astronaut space project in a way that helps other interests. If that means working on CATS, tugs, refueling, or other such dual-use infrastructure, then do it. If it means changing objectives altogether and focusing on Earth Observations or powersats or commercial/military satcom needs, then do it. These other, presumably much larger, interests will praise your program, and the public that’s part of those interests will notice.

  • The People

    1. Interim results – soon. LRO is a start, and so is GRAIL. A lot more is needed.

    This is the most important. It’s impossible for me to understand why Griffin didn’t stick with EELVs for this very reason. The EELV and Stick options traded very closely in ESAS. In retrospect, the EELV numbers had much greater fidelity than the 4 and 5-segment SRB 1st stage options, and now we’re paying for it.

    You could have performed an Ares 1-X type demo with an EELV last year. That would have gone far to convincing the public and congress that NASA was moving forward with VSE plans. Now we have to wait until next year, and even that schedule is questionable.

  • “Still, the agency is hoping to recapture some of that magic, a desire that sent NASA last year to the New York advertising firm Interbrand. The agency will pay it $160,000 to better “brand” Constellation and other projects.”

    Weird… $160K isn’t enough to pay the executive secretary’s salary at a NY advertising firm. If Griffin & Co. really think that the best way to save Constellation is to relabel it, they should at least put enough money on the table to get the job done.

    Instead of wasting taxpayer dollars on underfunded and misguided attempts to apply commercial advertising and intellectual property practices to government programs, maybe Griffin & Co. should take a stab at basic technical and program management.

    Maybe, say, review the dozens of technical and programmatic deficiencies in the Ares I program from the December General Accounting Office report, develop an action plan to address these deficiencies, and make the necessary changes in Ares I management to get that action plan implemented?

    Maybe get rid of the over 600 (six hundred!) bureaucratic rules of engagement that now govern Constellation project office “Relationship Agreements” and just let the managers and engineers work with each other?

    Maybe stop marching towards a major design review in a few months during which major decisions about which launch abort system on Orion, what landing mode on Orion, and what acoustic mitigation system on Ares I (if any is workable) will be left unanswered and rethink the schedule (and maybe the program) instead?

    Oy vey… what a sad joke Constellation has become.

  • Al Fansome

    ANON: what a sad joke Constellation has become.

    I agree.

    What is truly sad is if anybody thinks this will work — that coming up with a new brand, for a flawed product, which is selling something our elected leaders do not want to buy, is going to make any difference.

    I don’t care if they pay $160k for branding/advertising help, $1.6 million, or $16 million. It is not going to work.

    I actually don’t think anybody at NASA believes this will work. I think they are doing this for a different reason.

    My reaction to this is that Griffin is challenging everybody at NASA to “Sell my program!”

    and this is part of the action plan the “communications” people at NASA came up with.

    In summary — the boss is yelling, so you better show you are doing something if you want to keep your job.

    – Al

    “Politics is not rocket science, which is why rocket scientists do not understand politics.”

  • Kevin Matalin

    This name change has actually been in the works for a long time. In fact, there have been directives inside NASA before to stop using the VSE. The problem is that VSE is too closely identified with the current president and people are worried that that gives the next president no stake in it–they can ignore it as “Bush’s Vision.”

    Early on inside NASA a lot of people kept referring to it as “The President’s Vision for Space Exploration.” There was a push to drop the reference to “the president” especially after Congress endorsed the plan as well. So people started to refer to it as “the national vision” or “NASA’s vision.” But the useage was inconsistent. There were orders to not use VSE in external documents that often got ignored by the people who had actually issued those orders.

    My point is that this has been in the works for a long time and it is in fact a natural and reasonable change.

  • Nemo2

    The President’s FY2009 budget comes out this week. I wonder whether it will say “Vision for Space Exploration” or “U.S. Space Exploration Policy”.

    Last year’s (FY 2008) budget said “Vision for Space Exploration”.


    The President’s Vision for Space Exploration”

    I also wonder whether NASA will ask the folks who manage the following website if they got the memo.

    – Nemo2

  • Whether or not the surprising switch of names has something to do with a possible retargeting of the post-shuttle program away from the much-ridiculed current ‘Apollo on steroids’ scheme, the proposed alternative with a base at a Lagrangian point is actually pretty old. In 2002 these ideas were publicized widely under the acronym NExT: see e.g. these New Scientist and articles or stories in Nature and Aviation Week in October 2002. If I remember correctly there was a widespread belief in the community in 2003 that this was the way NASA would be sent soon (and astronomers were already dreaming about huge interplanetary observatories) – but perhaps they just couldn’t explain to “W.” what a Lagrange point is, and so they settled on the Moon eventually …

  • D. Messier

    Does the U.S. stand for “UnSustainable”? Bush is leaving in a deep financial hole:

    It will be hard to sustain this program no matter what they call it.

  • “Whether or not the surprising switch of names has something to do with a possible retargeting of the post-shuttle program away from the much-ridiculed current ‘Apollo on steroids’ scheme, the proposed alternative with a base at a Lagrangian point is actually pretty old. In 2002 these ideas were publicized widely under the acronym NExT: see e.g. these New Scientist and articles or stories in Nature and Aviation Week in October 2002.”

    Even on Wikipedia under NExT’s successor, the Decadal Planning Team or DPT:

    It’s worthwhile to note that this group was more about capabilities than destinations (like Lagrange Points). It would be more fair to say that Lagrange Points and manifold trajectories figured heavily in their mission plans, rather than saying that Lagrange Points were their preferred destination.


  • Kevin – I think you’re point about relabeling is very valid, and worth remembering. While I agree with the general sentamits here, that this big push for “re-labeling” is a waste of time, looking at the recent push to get a space question asked at the CNN/Poliico debate, the VSE is too closely tied with Bush. Multiple questions dealing specifically with endorsing VSE (when no real hardware was being flown) would be a bit like asking “Do you plan to continue President Bush’s policy on taxes?” Asking that at an R debate will get a good discussion – asking it at a Democratic debate isn’t going to advance anything.

    This late in the game, between the fact that no hardware is flying (because a successful program is much harder to kill than an unsuccessful program), and the fact that the plan is so tied to the legacy of Bush, and the likelyhood of the fact that the next president will be a Democrat, makes this effort to little to late.

  • Space Policy Cynic


    January 14, 2004 to January 31, 2008


    “we hardly knew ye…”

    Well so much for VSE. Having demoted it to a mere Space Exploration Policy basically makes it an artifact of the Bush Administration since policies, like White House stationary, are changed with every administration. By down grading it to a policy now NASA has basically freed the next administration to replace it with ITS space policy. And advocates arguments that it is abandoning the vision will be easily countered by pointing out that it was already abandoned by the same administration that created it by down grading it to a mere policy….

    So I wonder what the new administration’s space policy will be?

    They could continue this administration’s policy and increase NASA’s funding to build the CEV/Stick and Ares V. But this is unlikely given the coming recession, increases cost of Iraq, and other spending problems Washington must address. Just as the costs of the Vietnam War and recessions in the early 1970’spelled doom for Apollo and the Shuttle as proposed during the Nixon Administration, so will these problems spell doom for this administration’s Space Exploration Policy.

    Given that they might decide to reverse the decision to retire the Shuttle arguing that the number of flights since Columbia without tile damage prove that the problem is solved and its safe to keep flying it until a replacement is available. Or until the ISS is safety deorbited at the end of its service life. We have already seen the first attempts in that direction. And a flight rate of 2 a year will minimize the political risks of an accident during the administration’s tenure while allowing them to keep NASA’s budget level or even cut it. Cutting would be especially attractive since this administration has already killed off most of the robotic science missions. This could be a very attractive option.

    The mostly likely option for the new administration will be to downgrade it to a LEO CEV on a EELV. Good enough to allow U.S. access to space via missions to the ISS and to fill the great space flight gap. Think of the Shuttle as originally planned as a TSTO and the one NASA actually got, and for the same reasons, lack of money to do it as originally planned. This will allow the Shuttle to be retired on schedule, along with the political liabilities of another accident, while also reducing the new to increase the NASA budget. And by redesigning the CEV to be launched on a EELV NASA will be able to do early boiler plate flights show it will look like progress is being made towards the replacement even if it doesn’t fly with a crew during the first term of the administration which also makes this option attractive.

    In any case, this down grading of the VSE by NASA has basically doomed it.

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