NASA

“Don’t even go there”

On Thursday morning the Space Transportation Association hosted a breakfast with Mike Coats, director of NASA JSC. Most of his talk focused on work at the center, including workforce and project management issues at the center. He did note, though, a concern about the lack of a NASA administrator and the uncertain future of aspects of the agency’s mission, including Constellation. “The uncertainty is driving folks crazy,” he said. “We don’t know really what the policy is for this new administration regarding space and maybe we’re going to have another change in direction. That uncertainty is causing a lot of concern in the workforce.”

Asked later about what effects this leadership vacuum at NASA headquarters was having on his job, Coats said that acting administrator Chris Scolese was doing a “great job”, but there were limits to what he could so. Scolese, Coats noted, “is reluctant to make anything that might be perceived as policy decisions. And yet it is very hard when you’re running an agency to make a decision that isn’t perceived as policy in some way.” It was time, Coats concluded, for the administration to provide Scolese with some help. “It would help we could have an administrator, a deputy administrator, and some direction, frankly.”

On the use of the NASA funding in the stimulus package, “we’re still talking,” Coats said. “We were hurting badly in ’09 and ’10 on the Orion program” prior to the passage of the stimulus package, he said. If stimulus funding is spent on that program, “that would allow us, if not shorten the gap, at least not to grow it a whole lot.” He did note that JSC was hard at work spending the $50 million in the package for facility repairs, noting that Hurricane Ike caused $90 million in damage to the center. The pace of activity is so high that JSC is borrowing procurement staff from KSC.

In a brief appearance, Congressman John Culberson (R-TX) heaped praise on Coats and his work at JSC, then made a suggestion. “I don’t know if it’s something you’d want to do, but I’d love to see you as our next NASA administrator.”

“Thank you for those kind words,” Coats responded. “Don’t even go there. The grandchildren are in Houston, so that’s where granddad’s going to be.”

22 comments to “Don’t even go there”

  • Major Tom

    $400 million for Orion and the best Coats can do is promise not to grow the gap “a whole lot” more? There’s a strong argument for a White House change in direction right there. (And another argument besides his grandchildren for Coats not to take up residence in the Administrator’s suite.)

    Talk about the proverbial flushing of money down the toilet. Pathetic.

    FWIW…

  • sc220

    Orion/Ares is a travesty. Now that Griffin is gone, I here more and more Marshall engineers criticizing the current approach and advocating a major change in direction. Unfortunately, and as always, the NASA managers don’t see it. The drones just keep droning along.

  • richardb

    Orion/Ares a travesty?
    What is a travesty is the incessant anonymous criticism of Nasa’s approach from “more and more” engineers. An engineer that doesn’t find fault and criticize a design isn’t worth much.

    What you guys are really saying is that Nasa is just like on January 28, 1986, not listening to the engineers about the dangers of launching Columbia or those engineers who worried about RCS panels and foam, yet Nasa didn’t listen until after Feb 1, 2003. If Nasa has returned to those lethal habits, it has a much bigger problem than the Ares design.

  • Major Tom

    “What is a travesty is the incessant anonymous criticism of Nasa’s approach from “more and more” engineers. An engineer that doesn’t find fault and criticize a design isn’t worth much.”

    This statement makes no sense. Assuming we’re all engineers, you complain that we criticize Ares I/Orion too much on the one hand, and then on the other hand, state that we’re not worth much if we don’t criticize engineering designs (like Ares I/Orion).

    Can’t have it both ways…

    “What you guys are really saying is that Nasa is just like on January 28, 1986, not listening to the engineers about the dangers of launching Columbia or those engineers who worried about RCS panels and foam, yet Nasa didn’t listen until after Feb 1, 2003.”

    The analogy is not perfect (operations versus development), but yes, NASA has bent its own rules in the design and development of Ares I/Orion just like NASA bent its own rules in the Challenger and Columbia accidents.

    But that’s a different point from the one being made by Coats, which is, despite the fact that operational Orion flights have slipped out to 2016 and despite the fact that another $400 million is being thrown at the project, he (and presumably NASA) can’t guarantee anything more than another slip that “won’t grow the gap a whole lot”. And on that point, I’d say that sc220 is right. The $20B+ and growing being thrown at Ares I/Orion development is a travesty given the program’s incredibly poor technical and schedule performance, even setting aside the attractiveness of various alternatives.

    FWIW…

  • richardb

    Major Tom, my post isn’t that criticism is good and bad. Its expected from an engineer, ie normal given the job requirements. What I claim is a travesty is the anonymous criticism from “more and more” engineers. Stop being anonymous. Criticize in public. Go on record like those that go public day after day in defense of Ares.

  • SpaceMan

    The $20B+ and growing being thrown at Ares I/Orion development is a travesty given the program’s incredibly poor technical and schedule performance, even setting aside the attractiveness of various alternatives.

    What you folks can’t seem to get through your head is that NASA is a method to deliver welfare to (huge) aerospace organizations and has been for decades. It is NOT going to change because you whine on some blog. Does it suck ? YOU BET IT DOES but that is the way politics works (irrespective of the country). richardb has it nailed. GET OFF YOU DEAD A** and do your whining in very public ways and DON”T BACK DOWN if you actually believe what you say.

    Once again, QUIT WHINING in private !!!

  • Jim Muncy

    Ahem… it’s not $20+B. It is forecast to be
    closer to $40B by IOC.

  • Major Tom

    “What I claim is a travesty is the anonymous criticism from “more and more” engineers. Stop being anonymous.”

    Three points:

    1) Mr. Foust welcomes anonymous comments on this site.

    2) “richardb” is just as anonymous as “Major Tom”.

    3) Our arguments either stand or fall based on the weight of their evidence and logic,. The identity of a writer does not determine whether his argument is right or wrong.

    “Criticize in public.”

    “Once again, QUIT WHINING in private !!!”

    This criticism is being done in public. This is not a private website.

    FWIW…

  • Major Tom

    “It is forecast to be closer to $40B by IOC.”

    Not that I doubt the number, but is there a source for it? I can only get up to $25-30B using the President’s five-year budget, extrapolated to 2015-16.

    FWIW…

  • SpaceMan

    This criticism is being done in public. This is not a private website.

    Grow up. Whatever goes on here might as well be private for all the attention it gets. *sheesh* what fools you be. You deserve to be stuck at the bottom of this gravity well.

    No guts, no glory.

  • Major Tom

    “Whatever goes on here might as well be private for all the attention it gets… You deserve to be stuck at the bottom of this gravity well.”

    If this website is so worthless, then why are you spending time here?

    Bleah…

  • SpaceMan

    If this website is so worthless, then why are you spending time here?

    I did not say it was “worthless”. I said it might as well be private. You have eyes and a brain for a reason which, so far it seems, has not dawned on you.

    Any one that thinks that WHINING on ANY blog is going to change government policy is seriously deluded. I happen to read this blog for several reasons, one of which is to understand how ignorant some folks really are. Thanks for the assistance. Another is to keep my finger on the pulse of policy that some people think is important. Gathering intelligence data might be one way to put it.

  • Tom Goodman

    Spaceman,

    I’m just a little unsure on your point here. The engineers and space enthusiasts that criticize the Aries/Orion plan are hardly anonymous. We post where we find an opportunity, we call our congress critters, we blog, we participate in every way that we can. While there is little incremental value in each blog post, even you find that our criticisms are getting noticed.

    The solution here is not to tell us to go away, but rather for NASA to provide the documentation that shows that Ares/Orion is a good design. GWB told NASA to go to the moon and Mars. NASA’s response was Ares/Orion. How did NASA make that choice? As engineers and technicians, we need to see the goals, trade analyses, and design choices that led us here. Ares/Orion was presented as *the* solution without justification.

    You can have our support. We would happily be NASA’s most vocal supporters, if we had faith that the process that led to Ares/Orion was a technical, goal driven development effort. Without the required technical justification, Ares/Orion is just a political pet project pushed into production too soon, without proper consideration; without engineering merit.

  • Major Tom

    “You have eyes and a brain for a reason which, so far it seems, has not dawned on you.”

    “one of which is to understand how ignorant some folks really are. Thanks for the assistance.”

    “Another is to keep my finger on the pulse of policy that some people think is important. Gathering intelligence data might be one way to put it.”

    Nevermind. Elifritz the self-important, insulting troll is back.

    Bleah…

  • Al Fansome

    MUNCY SAID: “It is forecast to be closer to $40B by IOC.”

    MAJOR TOM SAID: “Not that I doubt the number, but is there a source for it? I can only get up to $25-30B using the President’s five-year budget, extrapolated to 2015-16.”

    Major Tom,

    The recent March 2009 GAO report has new numbers:

    “NASA: Assessments of Selected Large-Scale Projects”
    http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d09306sp.pdf

    Page 19 of the report has an estimate of the total life-cycle cost of the Ares 1 as $17-20 Billion.

    Page 45 of the report has an estimate of the total life-cycle cost of the Orion as $20-29 Billion.

    Providing a total estimated cost of $37-49 Billion just for these two pieces of hardware.

    Now, in order to think about total “Constellation program costs”, we need to add in:

    * Ares V
    * Altair (lunar lander)
    * Lunar Rover
    * Power/energy systems
    * Lunar Habitat module(s)
    * Environmental Control/Life Support Module(s)
    * Operations (Considering ISS and Shuttle historical Ops costs, any estimates here?)
    * Plus more for any utilization or new technology development that people want to do.

    Constellation will cost much more than $100B.

    So, why are we going back to the Moon (as opposed to some other destination beyond LEO)?

    I have brought up this issue here before, and have even challenged Mr. Wingo and Paul Spudis, who are articulate advocates of going to Moon, to provide a compelling answer.

    But I have not heard one (yet).

    A compelling answer is one that can be convincingly explained in an elevator pitch (e.g. 30 seconds or less) to the American taxpayer, and to the average Member of Congress.

    FWIW,

    - Al

  • Ruthless Desperado

    Nevermind. Elifritz the self-important, insulting troll is back.

    That’s not Elifritz.

    Mr. Elifritz recently located a very large and very recent impact crater and is busy working on the scientific ramifications of that discovery. That’s Clear Lake or Habitablezone or some other new rabid space enthusiast. Mr. Elifritz has completely lost interest in arguing failed launch vehicle architectures with failed space policy wonks and hacks, and encourages fresh and new space advocate faces to take up the now even more pressing battle against Ares.

  • red

    Al Fansome: “Providing a total estimated cost of $37-49 Billion just for these two pieces of hardware.”

    Space News (print, March 9, 2009, “Scolese: NASA Is Addressing Cost, Schedule Overruns”) includes the following quote:

    “It has been particularly difficult for NASA officials to estimate the cost of manned flight missions, Scolese told the committee, because so few projects have been undertaken and because these programs extend over decades. “We don’t have strong historical data,” he said.”

    “As a result, NASA was unable to provide GAO with specific cost estimates for the Ares 1 rocket and Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle. Instead, space agency officials told GAO the entire Ares program is expected to cost between $17 billion and $20 billion while Orion is expected to cost between $20 billion and $29 billion, according to the report.”

    Do I understand this Space News quote correctly? Is the GAO getting its Ares 1/Orion cost estimates from NASA? If so, what’s the process for NASA coming up with those numbers? Is NASA an unbiased source? Could the actual expected numbers, if produced by an independent but informed source, be even higher than $37-49B??? Is NASA just guessing, as the quote seems to suggest?

    I just can’t get over the $37-49B for a capability (ISS crew transport) whose major use seems to be to compete with U.S. commercial transportation services.

    Al: “Now, in order to think about total “Constellation program costs”, we need to add in” <>

    Will Ares/Orion be lunar capable by the time the $37-49B(!) are spent, or just ISS-capable? If only ISS capable, there’s another little line item to add to the list …

    Al: “and have even challenged Mr. Wingo and Paul Spudis”

    Both of them are strong advocates for going back to the Moon, but my understanding of their preferred approaches to doing that is that they’re quite different from Constellation. It’s probably fairly difficult for them to argue for an approach that they’re partly for (eg: the destination) but partly against (eg: Ares, lack of reusability, lack of ISRU, lack of commercial participation, etc). … but I guess I should let them speak for themselves, which I’m sure they’ll do if they want to.

  • Major Tom

    “The recent March 2009 GAO report has new numbers:

    ‘NASA: Assessments of Selected Large-Scale Projects’
    http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d09306sp.pdf

    Page 19 of the report has an estimate of the total life-cycle cost of the Ares 1 as $17-20 Billion.

    Page 45 of the report has an estimate of the total life-cycle cost of the Orion as $20-29 Billion.”

    Thanks, Mr. Fansome.

    Wow… just wow…

  • ELee

    So NASA has to choose if they should fund $300M for COTS-D (to be paid only if SpaceX successfully starts a new commercial system of launching of people to orbit) – or give Ares I/Orion another 1% to maybe do a few days more work sometime over the next 6 years. Seems like a choice between starting Apple Computer or buying another few vacuum tubes for your mainframe computer.
    Sounds the perfect final exam question for the current NASA management. Get this one wrong, and I hope they will stick around long enough to see the closure of one, two or maybe all three large centers. NASA – the new AIG.

  • Little Bird

    Seems like a choice between starting Apple Computer or buying another few vacuum tubes for your mainframe computer.

    John Galt is a fantasy character from a work of fiction. That’s how disconnected from reality the r_e_t_a_r_d_s of America really are.

  • So, why are we going back to the Moon (as opposed to some other destination beyond LEO)?

    I have brought up this issue here before, and have even challenged Mr. Wingo and Paul Spudis, who are articulate advocates of going to Moon, to provide a compelling answer.

    But I have not heard one (yet).

    You heard one — you simply chose to ignore it. I’ll repeat it again:

    The ultimate object in space is to go anywhere, at any time, with
    whatever capabilities needed to do any task or objective. This ability
    is still far away; current spaceflight opportunities are mass and
    energy limited and will always be so if everything needed in space
    must be lifted from the deep gravity well of Earth’s surface. To
    create greater capability, the resources of space must be harnessed to
    build, extend and operate transportation systems in space. On the Moon, we will learn the skills and acquire the technologies needed to extract materials and energy from space to create new spacefaring capabilities. The
    initial goal is to create a permanent infrastructure that can
    routinely access the entire volume of cislunar space (where all
    current space assets reside) with machines and people. As capabilities
    grow with time, such a system would be extended to interplanetary space.

    NASA was given this assignment five years ago as the Vision for Space Exploration and it was clearly and articulately expressed as a major space policy declaration. Instead of implementing this task, they chose to interpret it as a mandate for an Apollo program to Mars. There was never money in anybody’s budget for that job nor was it the intention of the VSE.

  • Bob Mahoney

    Paul,

    I would counter that the ultimate object ‘in space’ is NOT what you suggest. Instead, what you have laid out is the ultimate object of a viable space operations infrastructure/capability, and I agree that properly defined lunar return is the best means of starting the establishment of same.

    But suggesting that this is ‘the ultimate object’ of space activities pre-supposes that those space activities have been justified already…and for many people they have not, and this, I feel, is a serious shortcoming of many efforts of space advocacy. Essentially, the missionaries already believe in the gospel and feel no need to explain it or justify its value or legitimacy.

    Bringing the solar system into our economic sphere of influence, exploring the unknown to make life better on Earth, inspiring us all with challenge and adventure…these are the “ultimate objectives” spoken to by the Vision.

    Establishing a means of achieving these goals (or any portion thereof) should never be mistaken for the ultimate goals themselves. This was ‘ultimately’ the fate that befell shuttle and the entire human spaceflight effort for nearly 20 years.

    I’m sure you would agree we’d best not fall into that trap again—assuming we haven’t already, that is…

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