NASA, Other

Lyles on Constellation, commercialization, and organization

At a joint WSBR-WIA luncheon Tuesday, Retired Air Force General Lester Lyles, one of the members of the Augustine committee, noted that he couldn’t go into much detail about the final report since it doesn’t come out until Thursday afternoon. “I don’t want to preempt some of the things that Norm [Augustine] and Ed [Crawley] might get into,” he explained. However, he did provide a few interesting opinions and insights about the committee’s work.

One key thing that came across was that Lyles himself was a supporter of the current Constellation architecture, while acknowledging, as the committee has, that there isn’t enough funding for it. “The current program of record, in my opinion, seems to be the right one,” he said, saying that the Air Force has concerns about human-rating EELV “not from a technical standpoint, but a program interruption standpoint for the national security space activities.”

In the Q&A session after his speech, he reiterated his preference. “I’m a big, big believer in the need for rocket technology, so I personally want to see Ares 1 going, and see the program going as it’s currently structured,” he said. “Now, we may look at some other options, and that might be the right thing to do–probably is, always, just to play it safe–but I certainly would not want to disrupt” the current program, which he called “very, very successful”.

Asked what he thought it would take for NASA to get more comfortable with buying commercial cargo and crew services, Lyles admitted he didn’t know. “I know there are concerns about how you structure commercial programs,” he said. He did say he was “blown away about the attention to detail” during a visit to SpaceX during the summer, saying that he had “naively” expected to see something “not as rigorous” as what he experienced during his career in the Air Force.

Lyles was also asked about the $3-billion-a-year NASA budget increase mentioned in the committee’s report, since there was some confusion about whether that increased would be gradually phased in over several years or added all at once. Lyles believed it to be the latter. “I will tell you going in, in our final session, we were talking about not a ramp up, we were talking about $3 billion a year” added immediately, a “step increase”.

Lyles noted that the summary report states that if the space program is to be successful, “it must have the right mission, it must have the right resources, and it must have the right organization.” “The latter,” he added, “was sort of a ‘foot stomp’ saying that we, probably, in our findings, thought that NASA today is perhaps larger than it needs to be given the mission that it currently has.” Lyles said the same issue came up five years ago on the Aldridge Commission, on which he also served, “and we punted a little bit on what we wanted to say”. The commission has wanted to recommend a NASA “BRAC”, but concluded that option would not be politically expedient.

15 comments to Lyles on Constellation, commercialization, and organization

  • Top Dog

    Lyles noted that the summary report states that if the space program is to be successful, “it must have the right mission, it must have the right resources, and it must have the right organization.”

    But designing and attempting to build the totally wrong rockets, and then failing, is totally ok, when very fine well adapted rockets are already flying.

    Heckava job, Mr. Lyles, just a heckava job. U ra.

    Thank you for not protecting America.

  • Major Tom

    From his comments in the Space News article, Gen. Lyles has never met a rocket that he doesn’t like.

    He wants to extend Shuttle:

    “Lyles said the Augustine panel would also recommend flying the space shuttle beyond its retirement date in order to lessen the gap between space shuttle retirement next year and the planned initial operational capability of Ares 1 and Orion.

    ‘We postulated the idea that perhaps extending the shuttle, as long as it’s done safely, as long as it’s done in accordance with previous studies, particularly from the [Columbia Accident Investigation Board] report, that extending the shuttle is something that somebody should look at seriously to minimize the gap,’ he said.”

    He wants to build Ares I:

    “‘I’m a rocket engineer, a rocket scientist. I’m a big, big believer in the need for rocket technology, so I personally want to see Ares 1 going and the program going as it’s currently structured,’ said retired Air Force Gen. Lester Lyles, a member of the White House-appointed Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee led by former Lockheed Martin chief Norm Augustine.”

    He thinks EELVs are okay too:

    “The Augustine panel laid out alternatives to Ares 5 that included human-rating the Atlas 5 or Delta 4 rockets developed under the U.S. Air Force Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program…

    ‘We found all the programs to be viable,’ he said. ‘There are advantages and disadvantages with any of them, when you look at it.'”

    He found the new commercial launchers to be great:

    “‘I know there are concerns about how you structure a commercial program,’ he said, citing the panel’s field trip to Hawthorne, Calif,-based Space Exploration Technologies Inc.

    ‘I was blown away with the attention to detail. I think everybody who has concerns about commercial activities, one you need to make sure they’re doing it right, and not cutting corners, and that’s what I thought I would see,” he said. “Two, you need to look at good examples and lessons learned and ensure that those are the right kinds of things that are going on, and don’t just wholesale reject commercial entities.'”

    And he thinks we have to build a heavy launch vehicle, any heavy launch vehicle, too:

    “Lyles said the panel concluded that the United States must have a heavy-lift launch capability, regardless of what form it takes… building a smaller version of the Ares 5, or reusing space shuttle hardware in new configurations.”

    I thought a hallmark of military leadership was the ability to make hard choices. Even with a $3 billion per year increase, NASA’s budget is a limited resource. Endorsing everything ensures that nothing gets done. Hopefully Augustine and Crawley, and the actual final report, will have much greater clarity about what the better options are.


  • NASA has a budget that’s less than $18 billion a year. The military has an annual budget of over $500 billion a year. If you include the supplementary spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it grows to more than $650 billion annually.

    So the US military tends to view NASA’s measly expenditures as– chump change– since the NASA budget is less than 2.7% of what the military spends on an annual basis and is actually lower than what the US military spends on its own space program.

  • CharlesTheSpaceGuy

    The more I hear about Lester Lyles the more I wonder about how he got to be a General! If you step the NASA budget up from $18 billion to $21 billion – it will NOT be efficiently used. The organization is sized for it’s budget – technical people are busy (how many of them have spare time during their days, waiting for something to do??), contracts have specified amounts, requests for proposal and contracts take time to issue, procurement offices are busy. If you suddenly dump a large amount of money on that organization – they have to add work, write RFPs, have source boards, hire additional people, find more office space, etc etc. Sure it sounds great to get more money but the system has a lot of inertia! Sure we can just “slash the red tape!!” but that often means ignoring federal procurement regulations.
    No organization would decline additional money, and all would say that they will handle it, but all will hope that no one reviews what they have done with it. But investigative journalists around the country will be busy for several years looking into what has been done with the “stimulus” money. Once the organization has the money they “must” spend it on something, they can’t save it.
    So Lester Lyles is happy to see an additional 3 billion dollars get borrowed from the Chinese so we can try to spend it on something quickly??? What did he do in the Air Force again and was he on our side?

  • Lyles is right on target, IMO.

    Good to get a glimpse of what is happening behind closed doors.

    And I totally respect the rights of other posters to present totally different opinions, which one would expect, coming from very different backgrounds from his USAF experience in the Space Launch Systems office, working on the Short Range Attach Missle program, F16 Avionics, and command of the Space and Missle Systems Center.


  • Robert Oler

    Marcel F. Williams military space programs while overly expensive…have a claim NASA’s do not…they make The Republic safer. I dont know how much for instance has been invested in GPS but every nickle has been paid back…and as for things like DSP and other programs…well we sleep great at night with them.

    Robert G. Oler

  • Top Dog

    “his USAF experience in the Space Launch Systems office, working on the Short Range Attach Missle program, F16 Avionics, and command of the Space and Missle Systems Center.

    Wow, blowing things up and killing people, for oil.

    Heckava job, Nelson, just a heckava job.

  • common sense

    Could it be that Gen. Lyles cannot give his real opinion on the matter since he belongs to a committee that is supposed to provide options? At least until the report is out and the job is over… I think people you’re making too much of it.

    Oh well…

  • Top Dog, I want you to know that we all genuinely look forward to the day when we no longer need experts at blowing things up and killing people for oil, religion, popularity polls, ideology, intimidation, or to sell newsprint. A lot of mankinds conflicts over the past 5,000 years were unarguably STUPID.

    However, until you can find a way to make everyone a lot smarter, our motto will have to continue to be:

    “Blowing things up and killing people…It’s what we do best!”


  • Top Dog

    “Blowing things up and killing people…It’s what we do best!”

    I guess you won’t mind if I don’t participate then. I prefer directing that energy into something more far useful – like work, progress and evolution.

    And at the end of the day I feel good about myself, and I don’t have to make up lots of idiotic excuses for inexcusable behaviors. Words don’t kill, and the more the merrier. The sifting and winnowing will sort out the good phrases. Unfortunately, thus far all your words have ended up on my cutting room floor, Nelson. But do keep trying.

    In the immortal word of John Lennon :

    Give liquids a chance.

  • common sense

    “In the immortal word of John Lennon :

    Give liquids a chance.”

    Funny I was under the impression he enjoyed a lot more than liquids…

    BTW, words “do” kill in many more ways than one…

  • Top Dog

    BTW, words “do” kill in many more ways than one…

    Er, no, they don’t, not any more than an animal’s call in the wild does.

    Animals do. Do. Some things work out better than others.

    What Obama needs to do is cancel Ares I (the do do) and then seriously think about what he needs to do to prevent any subsequent heavy lift development at NASA to become another animal mess. That would involve reusability and incremental development of some EELV and shuttle derived derivatives in my HO. The DOD do do may have a completely different HO.

  • common sense

    Words incite others to kill therefore words do kill.

  • Top Dog

    No, ‘others’ kill, which in the case of the US military, those ‘others’ are representing you. The mark of a critical thinking human is understanding that you are responsible for your actions, independent of the words that you hear.

    But congratulations, you have just succeeded in indicting humanity.

    If you want to continue breeding and educating humans to do whatever it is that you ask of them, demand of them or tell them – be my guest. That’s why we ended up with Ares. The reason we have a space program is to create human beings who understand the simple truth that words don’t kill, it is physics that does the actual job. If you don’t understand that physics, then you perhaps shouldn’t be given the job of attempting to control it.

    Those responsible for the debacle of Ares do not understand physics.

  • […] of the committee might prefer other options, we know that at least one member, Lester Lyles, supports the “program of record” and said he personally wanted to see the development of Ares 1 […]

Leave a Reply




You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>