Lane on his report and the NASA administrator search

Last week I noted here the mixed reception from former astronauts to a the recent policy paper by George Abbey and Neal Lane, one that proposed foregoing a return to the Moon in favor of more of an emphasis on energy and environment research, as well as long-term planning for missions to near Earth objects. What other response has that report generated?

I had an opportunity last weekend at the AAAS conference in Chicago to ask Lane, after a panel session about the future of the OSTP (Lane was President Clinton’s science advisor), what sort of feedback he’d received. “Mostly favorable,” he said. He alluded to Cernan’s opposition to the proposal that was published by the Houston Chronicle, but wasn’t surprised since Cernan is “still kind of a space nut. He wants to go go go, out to Mars.”

Lane, by comparison, doesn’t think the nation is interested in human missions to the Moon and Mars. “It would be fine to go to the Moon if there was a reason to go to the Moon, and the people wanted to, but they don’t,” he claimed. “People don’t care about going back to the Moon and there’s no rationale for going back to the Moon. I would really like to see NASA go forward in a big way and have a larger and more exciting space program. But right now there’s not the support for it, and NASA’s flailing.”

That’s why, he said, he and Abbey decided that NASA would be better advised to focus on “solving the energy problem” and build public support for the agency that could be leveraged for other missions in the future. “If we keep blowing all our money on Constellation there will be nothing left,” he said. “Our hope was to put something out there that would actually be good for NASA, helpful, and give it a solid foundation to build from again until the American people get excited again about space exploration.”

Lane said he hasn’t gotten any feedback from the Obama Administration about the study, but he believes that the administration will change course from the current exploration architecture. “I think it’s clear since Mike [Griffin] left that they don’t intend to go down the same road,” he said. “If you were going to just continue, why not keep him in, right?”

So who might replace Griffin as administrator? Lane said he didn’t have any insights. “They’ve looked at some capable people. I don’t know if they’re going down a long list and having trouble finding anybody willing to do it, or if it’s something with the vetting, or something else. I don’t really know what’s going on right now. With [presidential science advisor] John Holdren in place now I suspect he’ll give a high priority to finding somebody, because he certainly cares, and he knows the agency needs leadership.”

19 comments to Lane on his report and the NASA administrator search

  • …doesn’t think the nation isn’t interested in human missions to the Moon and Mars.

    Jeff, shouldn’t this be “…doesn’t think the nation is interested in…”? That seems to be what is implied in the following sentences.

    Anyway, I would hope that the administration isn’t paying any attention to this nonsense. My comments <a href=”″ target=”_ “here.

  • MarkWhittington

    By “nation” Laner of course means Lane and his particular political circle, Like too many people Lane projects his own views, in this case that NASA is just too fixated on space, on the majority of the people.

  • Jeff Foust

    Thanks, Rand. The error has been corrected.

  • I would be a heck of a lot more interested in what Paul Spudis or Jack Schmitt has to say about Lane’s comments, frankly, and I feel sorry for anyone who would dare call Captain Cernan “a space nut.” It marks Lane as either ignorant or covertly hostile to an eventual future beyond the reach of central planning. This Zero-Sum mentality if really getting on my nerves. – and there are plenty of reasons why the present administration would want to sack Mike Griffin.

    Perhaps one ought to do just that, ask Dr. Schmitt, or the Russians, Chinese or Indians what all “that Moon stuff” is all about.

  • I’m proposing an earthly mission for NASA — to develop the liquid fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR) at a pace similar to the first man-on-the-moon mission. The LFTR can produce electric power cheaper than from coal; this can convince all nations to stop burning coal and emitting CO2. We can solve our energy and climate crises without imposing worldwide carbon taxes [really impossible] and simultaneously increasing productivity. NASA has many skills applicable to the LFTR project. Please visit the Aim High proposal at

  • MarkWhittington

    Robert, sounds like a a better fit for the Energy Department, or, better, the private sector if the technology is so promising.

  • Commenter

    LFTR is an avenue to what fusion was promised to be. It also has tremendous potential for eventual human settlements on the Moon, Mars and possibly other planetary bodies. Its high temperature operation also makes it appealing for in-space nuclear propulsion and power applications.

    Because of its long-term potential, it seems natural that NASA should have an interest. Although Oakridge National Lab pioneered the technology in the 1950’s, DOE has not been receptive to investing in it because of its interest in Uranium-based systems.

  • I think Mark nailed it on this one. I see plenty of interest in the Moon amongst the people with whom I speak during NSS of North Texas outreach events, like at the Dr. Neil Degrasse Tyson talk at UT Arlington earlier this week. But these are little people, not space elites like Mr. Lane.

    I want energy too, and I want to get it first-hand from the Sun, instead of second or third-hand through hydroelectricity or hydrocarbons. Some of the hardware is going to come from the Earth (including most of the early stuff), some from the Moon (structural elements and solar cells), and some from asteroids.

    There are plenty of good reasons to go to the Moon, and I listed them years ago over at the Selenian Boondocks, later at Space News, and now in a slightly updated form at my website.

    I do agree with him about Constellation.

  • Charles In Houston

    There does seem to be plenty of interest in going to the Moon (admittedly I live in an area that is over run with manned space enthusiasts) but when you ask people how much they are willing to spend, they mutter about the economy and all of that. Most of them also have a vague idea of how little we spend on space…
    Let us assume that there is interest in flying in space, enough that a few people are willing to spend millions to do it, then could we perhaps get out of the way of commercial companies that would like to make money doing it??
    The Lane/Abbey/Muratore report talked about what the government program could/should do – let us not forget that space is not a government reserve any more.
    Hopefully, in spite of their large challenges, we will Virgin Galactic flying into near near space. Perhaps to grow into a service that could go into orbit? Perhaps Elon Musk will be able to fly to Station?
    As much as I am skeptical of this “stimulus” I do think about how a few millions sent to the right people could help commercial space reduce their risk.

  • Al Fansome

    It is easy to measure public support for going back to the Moon against other public policy objectives. It is called a “survey”.

    By any objective measure, there is little to no public support for spending >$100 Billion in federal tax money to go back to the Moon. It is Apollo Redux.

    Most members of the public if asked, will say “haven’t we done that already? Why are we going there again?”

    This is a serious issue.

    Now, the readers of this blog can ignore what Lane is saying, or even violently disagree, but that does not change the practical reality of the underlying political situation.

    If you want to change some minds, show us all the objective data for public support for returning to the Moon. (And arguments to authority to “ask Dr. Schmitt” or “ask Paul Spudis” are not effective either.)


    – Al

  • […] George Abbey, who is listed as an author.  But recently, another author (Neal Lane) has made some public statements that are so egregiously ignorant that I cannot remain […]

  • If you want to change some minds, show us all the objective data for public support for returning to the Moon. (And arguments to authority to “ask Dr. Schmitt” or “ask Paul Spudis” are not effective either.)



    FWIW — not much. Yes, maybe people don’t care about the Moon, but I don’t think they care all that much about space in general. It’s always left to the true believers to define policy and direction. NASA has spent 40 years trying to find out what people want from the their space program. There is no “magic answer.” The true believers have a thousand answers while most of the populace yawns.

    The Moon is important because it’s the first step beyond LEO in creating new spacefaring capability. The Vision is about that, regardless of how NASA has (mis)interpreted it.

    Go ahead and wait another 20 years for clear public direction for the space program. Let me know how that works out for you.

    These thoughts developed at length on my blog here.

    Paul Spudis

  • Al Fansome

    SPUDIS: Go ahead and wait another 20 years for clear public direction for the space program. Let me know how that works out for you.


    As anybody who has read this blog knows, I am not an advocate of waiting another 20 years.

    SPUDIS: It’s always left to the true believers to define policy and direction.

    I agree with this.

    One of the key objectives is “sustainability”, which was one of the key specific criteria that the Aldridge Committee report (that you helped write) specified.

    The “Moon story” is not selling. From your post above, you clearly know this. I give you credit for acknowledging it.

    SPUDIS Yes, maybe people don’t care about the Moon, but I don’t think they care all that much about space in general.

    QUESTION: Since, we can agree that they don’t care about “the Moon” or about “space”, what do they care about?

    There is a big hunk of cheese at the end of this tunnel.


    – Al

  • red

    Lane: “It would be fine to go to the Moon if there was a reason to go to the Moon, and the people wanted to, but they don’t … People don’t care about going back to the Moon and there’s no rationale for going back to the Moon. … right now there’s not the support for it, and NASA’s flailing.”

    The VSE had some compelling reasons to go back to the Moon: security, economic, and science benefits, and development of commercial space and international cooperation. However, as far as NASA’s current human Moon program is concerned, I agree with Lane that “NASA’s flailing”. I don’t think the flailing has anything to do with the level of public support, though. NASA has come up with a program that simply doesn’t address the compelling reasons to go back to the Moon. Not only that, but it’s a very expensive program, and it’s not going to return any benefits until 2020 or so, if ever. It’s too big and too slow. Also, it doesn’t build up generally useful capabilities along the way to make the foundation more solid. We don’t need heavy lift for anything except NASA human spaceflight programs, if that. It also is still, in my opinion, not laying nearly enough groundwork in terms of robotic precursor lunar science and engineering missions to spark public and insider interest, and to prepare us for the human missions. Finally, NASA did come up with a huge list of other (or more specific) reasons to go to the Moon besides the VSE ones, but it hasn’t focused on them, picked the key ones to go after, figured out how to go after them, and publicized them. In that context, of course the public isn’t interested.

    So … the result of all of this is that it seems like there’s no reason to go back to the Moon because NASA’s plan isn’t a good one. Is it possible to fix NASA’s plan, and go back to the Moon in a way that achieves some of the things I mentioned (security, economics, science, commercial space, international cooperation, useful infrastructure, faster schedule, lower cost)? I do, and I’d be for a NASA program that does even, say, half of these things. Lane apparently doesn’t think so – it seems he’s writing off the Moon because NASA is having trouble. That seems a bit harsh on the Moon, which isn’t responsible for NASA’s difficulties.

    However, let’s take Lane’s conclusion for granted – that the public isn’t interested in the Moon, NASA’s flailing, so NASA shouldn’t return to the Moon. What should we do then? In that case, one reasonable option is to have NASA do something the public is interested in … if it’s in the context of NASA’s space and aeronautics mission and expertise. Dr. Spudis’s blog references a poll of 20 critical issues that cites global warming as being in last place. (Space isn’t on the list). The implication is that the energy/environment missions the Lane/Abbey proposal recommends isn’t supported by the public, either. However, that poll showed energy as #6 and environment as #16. A lot of the issues are mostly irrelevant to NASA (eg: Social Security, Immigration, etc), so #6 is fairly high. Space Politics had a post on a poll that focuses on desired technology breakthroughs, and energy and environment faired well there compared to space (so did medicine and security/defense):

    So energy and environment might not be a bad pair of choices as far as the public is concerned. Let me just pick the subset of Earth observations (which are easy to discuss because NASA already does them and we know what they’re like). These missions tend to have characteristics (launchers, satellite subsystems and instruments) that are very similar to military and security ones, so those key public concerns could be addressed at the same time. Economic concerns can be tackled concurrently, too. A much more substantial NASA Earth observation effort could help our space development goals if it had a few of the following characteristics:

    – Keep the vast majority of NASA work in the space/aeronautics realms.
    – Keep NASA on the cutting edge, with a wide-open pipeline to operational agencies like NOAA, DOD, intelligence agencies, Homeland Security, and USGS, and also commercial space (like GeoEye and Digitalglobe).
    – Keep a wide data pipeline to commercial value adders (Google Earth, GIS, image processing, ACCUWeather, etc)
    – Don’t blow all the funding on 1 or 2 giant programs NPOESS-style.
    – Don’t make the mistakes of Constellation:
    * Focus laser-like on goals like economics, security, and science.
    * Fully engage with commercial space and international partners.
    * Make the structure look like a food pyramid, with numerous small satellite projects, suborbital RLV missions, etc as the foundation.
    * Deliver results quicker, on a sustainable budget.
    * Use existing launchers, and encourage new commercial ones.
    * Build or encourage useful infrastructure that can be used by later NASA missions, other agencies, or commercial space (eg: refueling, tugs, and stations for astronaut environment satellite servicing, improved satellite components, commercial suborbital and orbital launchers) … no HLVs or NASA rockets needed.

    It seems to me that such an effort would be affordable if Constellation were shut down (as Lane recommends). I think it could even be done with funds left over to implement a good lunar robotic program, and in a way that builds the space infrastructure that would eventually enable a good human lunar program. Maybe Lane means something similar when he talks of building a “solid foundation”, but Lane and Abbey recommend keeping the Shuttle and doing a bunch of other things that seem too expensive to me, unless they’re proposing a schedule of multiple decades.

  • […] incluse foto e schemi delle valvole responsabili del rinvio, li trovate su NasaSpaceFlight. Su Space Politics, tra gli altri, trovate invece dettagli e commenti su un altro ritardo, che, confesso, mi preoccupa […]

  • Al Fansome

    RED: The VSE had some compelling reasons to go back to the Moon: security, economic, and science benefits, and development of commercial space and international cooperation.


    A friendly clarification (I hope). The VSE was not about the “Moon”. We need to understand this.

    John Marburger, the former White House Director of OSTP, was clear about what the VSE was about. While others have mentioned the following, it bears repeating.

    * “As I see it, questions about the vision boil down to whether we want to incorporate the solar system in our economic sphere, or not.”

    * “The fundamental goal of this vision is to advance U.S. scientific, security, and economic interests through a robust space exploration program.”

    * “The wording of this policy phrase is significant. It subordinates space exploration to the primary goals of scientific, security and economic interests. Stated this way, the “fundamental goal” identifies the benefits against which the costs of exploration can be weighed.”

    Now, the American people want economic, security and science benefits. President Obama wants the same. This Marburger statement has a longevity and clarity that crosses parties, changes in elected leadership, and decades of time.

    The next question should be “What space development plan most effectively delivers these benefits”?

    A closely related question — for the sustainability goal — is “What space development plan will generate the strongest & broadest support from the American public and its elected representatives?”

    If Moon advocates can unequivocably demonstrate that Humans on the Moon is the most effective next step in a plan to deliver these benefits, great. But Moon advocates have tried for 4 years now, and I have not seen that argument (yet). Until we have a clear answer to the average person’s question “Why are we going back to the Moon?”, a focus on the Moon puts the VSE on a weak, and perhaps unsustainable, footing.

    I think there are more effective strategies — at meeting the fundamental purpose of the VSE (and extending human presence beyond LEO) — that defer the Moon for awhile.


    – Al

  • red


    I did mention the Moon a lot, in part because the quote from Lane I started with was about the Moon, and also because the Moon is the centerpiece first destination of the VSE. I agree about the importance of science, security, and economic benefits in the VSE – not only are they in Marburger’s speech, but the VSE itself flat-out says that those are the goals. I don’t think NASA’s Constellation/ESAS has anything to do with those 3 goals, though.

    On the other hand I think it is possible to have an emphasis on the Moon that does address those 3 goals. Dr. Spudis has described an approach with that seems to me like it would have a good chance, for example. Just focusing on Constellation alternatives, a Moon transportation system that’s based on commercial launch, refueling, and in-space transportation that can all be used for non-Moon purposes could be an example where all 3 of those goals are helped.

    At any rate, it doesn’t matter to me whether our main destination is the Moon, LEO, Mars, asteroids, or whatever. It also doesn’t matter to me whether our expected benefits center around science, security, and economics, or other benefits like ones I was mentioning in the earlier post (Abbey/Lane’s environment and energy), or others (medicine, disaster monitoring/relief, education, etc) as long as they’re important enough and achievable.

    I do think it’s pretty hard to achieve any of the others without that economic/commercial space one, though, since it can offer a sort of “multiplier effect” in capabilities and results returned. So, if we start with “science, security, and economics”, and develop a plan based on those 3 goals (rather than trying to somehow explain after the fact how something like Constellation delivers on those goals), we’d probably end up with a good strategy.

  • Tom

    I’m interested in the ongoing debate and dialogue about the next NASA administrator. The four names that I’ve seen from different sources seem to indicate that President Obama wants to bring more of a military organization to this civilian agency. NASA, by far, is the closest thing to a military organization among the handful of government civilian agencies. A choice of a retired General officermaybe an effective choice. My personal choice between the four is Scott Gration. I had the pleasure of working with him for a number of years. He is a non-statis quo, out of the box thinker and an inspiring leader. Don’t let his affliation with the Air Force fool you into believing that he is a preprogrammed robot. Nothing could be further from the truth. While in the Air Force, Scott Gration continually challenged convention which is not always the easiest thing to do in a military service. His “nothing is impossible” attitude led to some of the most innovative operational improvement and personnel support program ideas in Air Force history. When you meet the man, you’ll want to follow him.

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