Congress, NASA

Mars attacked?

That’s the thrust of the headline on Wired News late today: “House Democrats Plan Attack on NASA’s Mars Mission”. According to the report (once you scroll past an oversized illustration of an Ares 1 launch), “the House Committee on Science and Technology will challenge NASA’s vision for space exploration” during a hearing tomorrow morning. The proof of this impending attack appears to be in the questions included in the hearing charter like these:

  • Does the exploration architecture, as laid out by NASA, present a technically and programmatically viable approach for executing exploration beyond low Earth orbit under a pay-as-you-go strategy?
  • Is the United States on the right track to reach the Moon by 2020, establish an outpost there, and eventually send humans to Mars, or do any changes need to be made to the architecture or implementation plan?
  • How will progress in implementing the architecture be measured?
  • How sustainable will NASA’s planned exploration initiative be, given the assumed constrained budgetary outlook as well as the cutbacks in funding for long-lead exploration technology development?

Of course, the hearing charter includes questions like these:

  • Is it technically and programmatically possible to accelerate the Orion CEV’s Initial Operating Capability (IOC) to a date earlier than March 2015 and still maintain a confidence level of 65%? What funding beyond the President’s request would be needed in FY09, FY10 and the out years to enable such acceleration? Would currently planned reviews and testing be retained during the acceleration?
  • What are the most important objectives to be accomplished in returning humans to the Moon?
  • How should Congress ensure that the establishment of a lunar outpost does not divert attention and resources from exploration beyond the Moon, as articulated in the Vision for Space Exploration and the NASA Authorization Act of 2005?

All of these questions look less like an “attack” or a “challenge” that a critical examination of what NASA is doing and what resources it needs to carry them out. Perhaps the reporter has some inside intelligence that indicates a more hostile reception than what’s indicated in the charter. Then again, the headline reference to “NASA’s Mars Mission” suggests a lack of sophistication.

Update: Thursday’s Orlando Sentinel reports that Constellation “faces critical problems and might never work as intended”, according to a GAO report that will be released at the hearing. The report deals with a number of issues that are not unfamiliar to those following the development of Ares 1 and Orion, including the Ares 1 thrust oscillation issue and mass margins. “In fact, according to GAO, the whole project is dogged by such ‘considerable unknowns’ that it is doubtful whether NASA’s request for an additional $2 billion during the next two years will be enough to overcome design flaws and speed its development for a first liftoff before 2015.”

19 comments to Mars attacked?

  • SpaceMan

    …Perhaps the reporter has some inside intelligence that indicates a more hostile reception than what’s indicated in the charter….

    Perhaps said reporter has been taking lessons from Marcia Dunn of AP.

  • Gary Spenser

    They’re doing the same thing that they did with the Stanford event–assuming things that aren’t there. Remember all the publicity before the Stanford workshop? There were several reports about how that workshop was all about questioning the VSE. But that’s not what happened there. Reporters are always looking for an angle, and if the angle is that people are challenging the president, then they’ll run with that.

  • Charles Phillips

    As SpaceMan wrote:

    > Perhaps the reporter has some inside intelligence that indicates a more
    > hostile reception than what’s indicated in the charter.

    Or more likely the reporter was confused after reading the Doc Horowitz babble.

    It looks like the standards for our news outlets have dropped precipitiously over the last couple of weeks. The Houston Chronicle, Wired, etc are all publishing the most transparent attempts to manipulate us.


  • MarkWhittington

    It could be wishfull thinking on the part of the reporter.

  • SpaceMan

    Mr. Phillips you have misattributed the quote.

    The item you credit me with is in the original post & not something I wrote. Pay attention please.

  • Habitat Hermit

    Thanks for the link “me”.

    Here’s a quote of the opening paragraph of “Revisiting the Constellation Architecture” at the bottom of page 9 in the document:
    “Subsequent to the issuance of ESAS, proposals have been made in support of alternative launch vehicle designs to those chosen by NASA. These have included proposals for a “Direct Derivative” of the existing Shuttle Transportation System and modified versions of the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV).”

    Then they go on at page 10 and a small part of page 11 and use it for reiterating what Dr. Griffin has previously used as reasoning against the Direct and EELV solutions. To me the entire segment reads like a clear warning to Dr. Griffin and possibly the start of an overt attack.

    I don’t think one should interpret it as a good sign when Congress quotes what you’ve previously said back at you and at great length. To me the document does read as a hostile repeated “is this what you’re saying Dr. Griffin?” and of course they know damn well that it is what he’s saying and he knows that they know so it’s as clear a challenge as they can make without being plainspoken and fully committed to fight. Maybe it will all turn into a game of chicken but it could easily become a lot more.

    P.S. I doubt there’s only Democrats on the House Committee on Science and Technology and the paper seems to represent all members not just one party.

  • GRS

    Interestingly, the proponents of accelerating development of a Shuttle replacement are finding themselves increasingly at odds with ESAS and the whole Ares approach. Sounds like Gap Minimization has a lot more political traction than Return to the Moon, especially now that it’s apparent that the Chinese have no serious plans for crewed missions to the lunar surface.


    I love NASA, but not the way it is implementing the vision. I used to love ESAS, but when someone presented what looks like a better, and less expensive plan to implement it, I am at least willing to look at the plan. NASA will not even do that. I do not want to find ourselves like we were in the ’70s wishing we had done A,B or C but getting the compromised shuttle in the bargin. We will need to live with the space vicheals we develop for a VERY long time. I just do not feel NASA is being realistic about the money it is going to get and they will cost us a lot of lost opportunites. I want to see a moon landing on TV and the internet, I would be willing to bet that in 2020 if NASA keeps up with ESAS NASA will not have manned people on the moon.

    Who here has not brought a new car? Who would want to “buy” and develop two new cars and infrastructure and assocaited costs when one car might do? Your chances of getting two new cars so far in the future for most people are so slim, they would not bet their future on having 2 cars to get the job done! What can you think of an agency that is willing to make that bet with our money and history!

  • PHILLIP GEORGE: I have thought ESAS was a mistake from the moment it was proposed, however, I can understand Dr. Griffin’s persistance. Most likely, he is trying to avoid the kind of indecision that doomed the Space Station to years of delay and vast increases in cost before a single piece of metal was bent. He’s picked a plan and is sticking with it through to completion. It’s just too bad it’s the wrong plan. . . .

    — Donald

  • Another load of media hogwash. These guys will write anything to make up a story. Having just listened to GAO’s testimony, there was very little criticism of NASA’s Constellation program. In fact there was substantial praise for its transparency and cooperation. No mention at all of any “critical problems”

  • anon

    I think the GAO report will basically be seen as the beginning of the end for the VSE. Its too late in this administration to salvage it and the next administration will have more important things to deal with.

    This means early next year one of two things will happen. The Shuttle’s retirement will be reveresed. Or a capsule will be tossed on an Atlas V and called the Shuttle replacement.

    Griffin had his chance to save the VSE and messed it up. Now its over.

    Hopefully my kids will at least get to see the Chinese exploring Mars.

  • Munchkin

    Having just listened to GAO’s testimony, there was very little criticism of NASA’s Constellation program. In fact there was substantial praise for its transparency and cooperation. No mention at all of any “critical problems”

    Rick Gilbrech et al. were lying through their teeth, and nobody has the guts to confront it. The Ares stick is dead, it was dead on arrival in fact – 9/20/05.

    Ares – Ship of Fools.

  • Al Fansome

    We have one report (by the Orlando Sentinel) about what the GAO report allegedly says. Plus a lot of “interpretation” and “spin” and “conjecture”.

    It would be useful to get a copy of the 20-page GAO report, so we have hard data before we debate any longer about what it says (or does not say), or what the GAO report means.

    – Al

  • Gary Spenser

    The hearing was civil and polite and nobody threw anything. Whoever wrote the original story anticipating a food fight clearly doesn’t know how these things go. The only person who created any noise was Dana Rohrabacher, and he did it by asking if any government agency is developing anti-gravity devices. Rohrabacher exists for comic relief, even if he is unaware of that fact.


    “We have one report (by the Orlando Sentinel) about what the GAO report allegedly says. Plus a lot of “interpretation” and “spin” and “conjecture”.

    It would be useful to get a copy of the 20-page GAO report, so we have hard data before we debate any longer about what it says (or does not say), or what the GAO report means.”

    The GAO report is available here:

    I have not gone through it in detail, but all the issues and risks noted in the earlier (December, IIRC) GAO report are still there and the opening/concluding bookends are more sharply worded this time around.


  • Doug Lassiter

    You’d be wise to read the written testimony, which always goes into much more detail than the oral testimony. While not hypercritical, that written testimony by the non-NASA folks make rather pointed recommendations that implicitly (and in some cases, not so implicitly) criticize the NASA party line.

    Both written and oral testimony go in the Congressional Record.

    To wit, from just Hinners.

    “Ideally the lunar program would be constructed and implemented in a way that allows for simultaneous development of non-lunar, pre-Mars missions. Budget reality might well preclude that approach, a likelihood that also applies to the simultaneous development of a Mars capability as implied in the ESAS. All of this suggests avoiding a large build-up of lunar infrastructure. In any case, one should have a lunar program exit strategy: when will the lunar program provide the required data in support of “Exploration Preparation” and how does one disengage from the Moon? Hoped for turn-over of lunar infrastructure to commercial and/or international partners does not seem particularly realistic.”

    “It is simply a matter of facing a stark fact: NASA’s budget today and in the outlook is grossly inadequate to enable NASA to properly fund the human lunar exploration to accomplish significant science. The import of that conclusion is considerable – and ironic: we are not returning to the Moon to do science yet the conduct of science is virtually the singular major activity associated with lunar exploration other than attending to the mechanics of living there … “

    “There does not today exist a inclusive, fully-developed, accepted long-range (e.g., 30 year) architecture for exploration, a void that hinders more efficiently structuring a lunar architecture and strategy and getting the most out of it for “Exploration Preparation.”

    Similarly for Thornton.

    The Chaplain GAO written testimony is quite laden with implicit skepticism.

    Re the blandly supportive oral testimony, sometimes it’s best not to throw knives when you’ve been invited to testify.

  • Chris Ringwood

    Oh dear, it’s starting again…once more we see the resurrection of a pattern that has had us spending billions with little tangible result for over 40 years.
    Whilst I think the Ares 1 & V, need scrapping in favor of the JUPITER DIRECT concept: and why nobody has thought of detaching the Shuttle Crew sections and mod’ ing them as “spacecraft” instead of creating APOLLO Mk2 I’ll never know; I consider starting YET AGAIN will mean the death knell of U.S manned space endeavors. With NASA’s budget incompetence to the fore exacerbated by the persistent “need” to re-invent the wheel for each project, it lays itself open to just such an attack as the Democrats are mounting – not that the Republicans haven’t made significant contributions in like fashion over the last 40+ years. This was how it took 18 years to build a BADLY compromised Space Station of little use to man or beast. Come back Zubrin, ALL is forgiven: even your DISGUSTING optimism!

  • D. Messier

    All this is happening waaaay ahead of schedule. I thought for sure the administration would be able to keep Constellation’s problems under wraps for another year. Or that the Democrats would have wanted to deal with more pressing issues.

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