NASA, White House

Coming soon: Son of ESAS?

The New York Times reports late today that NASA will embark on a “major evaluation of its human spaceflight program” in the coming months. The Times compares the planned “multimonth” study with the Exploration Systems Architecture Study (ESAS) performed by NASA in mid-2005 that led to the current Constellation architecture. One unidentified person said the study would be “putting meat on the bones” of the Augustine committee options, although it’s not clear if this study will be done to fill in the details after the White House selects an option, or if this will provide additional information before the administration makes a final decision (and if the latter, it makes one wonder what the White House and NASA have been doing the last three months.)

The Times report adds, like some previous reports, that NASA is in line for a budget increase in FY11 of less than $1 billion. But what about that planned freeze of non-security discretionary spending? The deputy director of OMB, Rob Nabors, said today that “it would not be the case that a request for NASA will be identical to the request that happened last year,” according to Space News. (Then that wouldn’t exactly be a freeze, would it?)

27 comments to Coming soon: Son of ESAS?

  • Robert G. Oler

    My take is that one of three things is “at work”.

    First this could be BS.. or a close cousin…BS going under the guise of disinformation.

    Second the entire effort could be this disoriented…nothing surprises me about this administration anymore.

    Third…this is the end of the beginning and the beginning of the end of the Ares/Constellation effort.

    Right now I am going with three..

    NASA ““major evaluation of its human spaceflight program” are always outcome driven…ie the evaluators “get the word” from the Administrator for the most part…as to what outcome needs to come out (LOL) of the evaluation.

    There is little innovative in terms of “where” the evaluation comes out…

    Charlie B will pass the word down the ways that “this is what we want” and before long (if Ares and Constellation are to die) a NASA internal evaluation will find “they were great choices at the time they were chosen but events and goals and methods have changed and hence they are no longer good fits” or some wording that would make Sir Humphrey from “YES (Prime) Minister” proud.

    Then Charlie, Lori and even Barrack can claim “wow we are just following the internal recommendations” and anyone who is against those recommendations will be labeled as “going against an internal NASA study after all they are the rocket scientist”.

    If this is where they are going it is how you make the bureaucracy and an internal study, do you’re political lifting for you.

    It is the surest sign to me that the current program is “doomed”.

    Yes (Prime) Minister

    Robert G. Oler

  • Al Fansome

    Just a month or two ago we were all talking about the fact that the President was focused on Afghanistan and Health Care, and had not yet been briefed on the NASA options.

    Recently the President has been briefed. I would have been surprised if he had digested all the complex issues, and came to a decision in such a short time.

    We all know that this President likes asking questions, and thinking about options, before making big decisions.

    Therefore, it is consistent with what we know about the President for him to down-select from the Augustine options a little bit (yet not make the final decision) and to ask NASA to study the remaining options (with some directed questions) before he makes the final decision.

    Of course, this is all speculation, but at least its fun speculation.

    FWIW,

    – Al

    PS — The word coming out of the White House is that there will be a freeze on total domestic discretionary spending, but that some programs/agencies will get increases while others will take cuts.

  • Mark R. Whittington

    It would appear that Obama administration space policy is more in chaos than I had hitherto suspected, This idea is right out of the cliche of NASA standing for “Need Another Study Agency.”

    For instance, if Ares 1 is going away, why continue to work on it, spending money? Why not stop?

  • Robert G. Oler

    Mark R. Whittington wrote @ January 26th, 2010 at 11:38 pm

    For instance, if Ares 1 is going away, why continue to work on it, spending money? Why not stop?..

    Oh that is easy Mark.

    For all I know you are correct and the entire thing is in shambles…(as I note above) and given this administration it would not surprise me.

    However, to me there is logic in the madness. It will be hard for folks like Pete Olsen and the other flunkies to argue with an internal NASA reassessment .

    Sir Humphrey would like it

    Robert G. Oler

  • Mark R. Whittington

    Oler, Sir Humphrey may be already at work undermining anything our President wants to propose. Remember his method of squashing a decision contemplated by his political masters that he disapproves of–refer it to a study committee and it will never be seen nor heard of again. In the meantime space goes on autopilot, barring the emergence of some leader in the Congress with enough juice to take control.

    Obama, especially in the wake of Massachusetts, seems to have lost control of his own Presidency. In space policy (and much else) this means chaos.

  • Mark R. Whittington

    Then again, if the following is true, then the entire exploration program is going to be scrapped.

    http://www.latimes.com/news/science/la-na-nasa-budget27-2010jan27,0,814100.story?track=rss

  • mike shupp

    Ah, the change we can believe in has become nickles and dimes!

  • Mark,
    It’s pretty obvious that not all of these reports can be true. Many of them are even internally inconsistent. Instead of jumping to conclusions, maybe we ought to wait a few more days and see what Obama’s policy really is before we start criticizing it.

    ~Jon

  • Brad

    The politics of this situation stinks for the fate of manned space exploration. The fact is Obama is in trouble, hence the “freeze”. Realistically, what are the chances that NASA of all places would escape the freeze, when it has no politically important constituency? Who votes based on what happens to NASA?

    Even if Obama decides to throw NASA a bone because of the Florida vote in 2012, that probably cuts against space exploration instead of in favor of it. Like an extension of STS and other make work pork for Florida space workers instead of a program for space exploration.

    Damn.

  • Mark R. Whittington

    Actually Jon, while you may be right that there is some misinformation going on, there is a certain consistency.

    First Obama cancels the current exploration program.
    Then NASA conducts a view graph study of alternatives.
    And then either something else gets funded or else the NASA study gets shelved like a lot of other studies and space exploration is dead for another generation.

    Not meaning to be cynical, but that last may be the plan.

  • Mark R. Whittington

    Brad – I don’t think right now the White House cares about Florida. If the story is true, one suspects that Bill Nelson must be kicking himself for trusting these people.

  • Brad

    Mark, that LA Times article was interesting, but not as dramatic as you led us to believe. In fact the only remarkable portion of it was the statement about canceling Constellation, which I presume means the end of the Orion CEV. But if the plan was truly to cancel space exploration, as you characterized the article, then why is there money for tech development and money for a heavy lift launch vehicle program?

  • Mark R. Whittington

    Brad, I;m not sure that there is money (or much anyway) for development of a heavy lifter. The NY Times reports that NASA will be tasked to study options for using such an HLV presumably with a view of later (maybe) using it for a Look But Don’t Touch program. I suspect that we are seeing one of the oldest bureaucratic tricks in the world, which is to study an idea to death without actually implementing it. Say what you will about Constellation, but one has to admit that had gone far past the view graph stage. There is every reason to believe that the new program never will.

  • NASA Fan

    My guess is that Obama is going with Flexi-path, and because flexi-punt does not come with a specific mission, which makes it hard to budget for, he is going to ask NASA to ‘study’ some flexi-punt options, the results of which will stay within, must stay with in – read FREEZE – the guidelines he outlines in his Feb 1 budget release.

    Politicians do not like to lose. They do not like to announce bad news. Indeed, all presidential announcements seem to be about a pet initiatives that highlight the candidates ‘stand on an issue he is passionate about, and promised the voters!” (makes me gag). Obama is going to use NASA to tell him what is not possible, like the existing Cx program, so NASA can come to its own conclusions about its fate. This way, the Punter of the US (POTUS) can say “NASA has decided, given the fiscal constraints and the tough times we are in, to abandon the Cx program as it has come to be known, in favor of a flex-punt approach..blah blah blah…

  • GB62

    I read this site permanently as a german who is interested since the 70´s. And I must say: A east- german until 1989.
    Clearly I dream about exploration. There can be not enough of this. But I am not a daydreamer. The economics is the basic of all. If you all have ever experienced the breakdown of an economic system und the following crash of the political system you may carefull with “rock-hard” standpoints. From this sight a citizen of U.S.A. probably can not understand what it means if a economie is totally crashing. If I see the financial crisis and bail-outs in U.S.A., your national debts and many more you must consider that every administration MUST HAVE big problems.

    But I say one thing clearly: Do not think that a isolationist sight of all the questions can solve the problems. U.S.A. is not alone in this world. For example: China has given U.S.A. so much money- why? Think about your trade deficit! Consume is even easier. U.S.A. needs again a strong industrial basic. You can not live only with the “money industry”. You need real economic basics.

    If , IF(!!!) such things are cleared one can make real plans for space. This is my sight.

    Now there is a President at office who have a wider sight of the world. Alone this is for many people in the U.S. a pcture of enemy. I read on many sites what people from U.S. are writing. Sometimes this is blood freezing. A not small piece of american society seems to have no other goal to pust the current POTUS out of office. And then? Problems solved? Whit this parted society?

    The U.S. administration must solve so many problems. Spaceflight is not the 1A priority. That´s reality. I deam of others but much crying makes no sense.

    PS: Excuse please: English is not my native language.

  • Major Tom

    “Look But Don’t Touch”

    For the umpteenth time, the flexible path options in the final Augstine report include multiple lunar landings, including long-duration stays, that involve astronauts on the surface on the Moon. Missions to NEOs and Phobos also involved astronauts on the surfaces of those objects. There’s a lot of “touching” going on.

    Stop making up and spreading lies.

    “Say what you will about Constellation, but one has to admit that had gone far past the view graph stage.”

    Nothing supporting exploration beyond LEO went beyond viewgraphs in Constellation. Ares V, its EDS, Altair, and even the lunar variant of Orion were all in early design (or cancelled in the case of Altair) at the end of Griffin’s tenure. Instead, billions were spent over the past five years on design and test hardware for the nation’s fourth intermediate lift launcher to LEO (Ares I) and the ISS variant of Orion.

    FWIW…

  • Robert G. Oler

    Mark R. Whittington wrote @ January 27th, 2010 at 3:41 am

    First Obama cancels the current exploration program.
    Then NASA conducts a view graph study of alternatives.
    And then either something else gets funded or else the NASA study gets shelved like a lot of other studies and space exploration is dead for another generation…

    ..

    Well you missed a step or two.

    Obama is going to cancel the current exploration program because the Augustine commission gave him cover to do it and the American people dont care for it so its toast…The system structure (Ares/Constellation) comes next…after another in house study many of the very same people (or new ones if the old ones cannot get the word) are going to figure out that the Ares/Constellation mix no longer works and its gone.

    Folks like Pete Olsen will be left arguing against a NASA study

    AS for the future…

    Major Tom has laid out a credible plan of where the money goes. I disagree with some of it, but not all that much.

    If Bolden gets 1 to 2 billion (and thats all I think it will be) to build a heavy lift vehicle…then we are going to see if Charlie does as well at NASA as he did at 3MAW.

    Robert G. Oler

  • Robert G. Oler

    Mark R. Whittington wrote @ January 27th, 2010 at 12:46 am

    Obama, especially in the wake of Massachusetts, seems to have lost control of his own Presidency. In space policy (and much else) this means chaos…

    that assumes BHO ever had control of his administration.

    The hardest thing a new person in charge has to do is take command.

    Taking the oath of office is the easy part…the hard part is starting to bend the folks at the next level below you to your will..while not breaking their spirit… And doing that assumes as a foundation something which I am not for sure Obama ever had…a sense of what he wanted his presidency to be.

    There is a great line by the actor who played The POTUS in “The Sum of All Fears”…they are on KNEECAP and things are falling apart, he has lost his good friend the DCI…and is sort of not doing all that well…the best acted line he has is that as he looks off in the distance (even while sitting around the table) and muses “I wanted to be President all my adult life, I spent decades figuring out what I would do as President and this is what it comes down to”.

    All said while oblivious to the central fact…he got to that position on this issue, because he didnt have a plan to deal with the line expressed by his DCI at the very start of the movie “It isnt the person with 1000 nukes I worry about, it is the person with one”.

    I am becoming of the opinion that things I expressed on TH and other blogs (including some left of center) during the campaign is accurate…BHO had no idea of what he wanted to do as POTUS (neither really did McCain…the only person in the race I think who did was HRC).

    I do not think he (BHO) ever cared (as neither did JSM or HRC) about space policy and I dont think, other then the mechanism of new effort) which is a little choatic that things are all that much in chaos.

    The “program of record” is going nowhere…it was going nowhere during Bush’s term (as I told you it would)…something else was inevitable.

    Sadly for the current person in TWW I dont think that he will take advantage of the changes which seem to be occurring in human spaceflight…ie announcing that we are restarting human spaceflight in The Republic in a different mode, one that creates real jobs, jobs of the private sector…not continuing mindless human exploration.

    OH sorry I forgot you like those kinds of programs

    Robert G. Oler

  • Loki

    I hope for my own sake that Spacex will be hiring soon, or it may very well be the unemployment line for me. Maybe it’ll just be Ares and lunar that gets canned and Orion will continue in some fashion, but the impression the la times article linked to above gave is that it’s the entire constellation program that will be canned.

    Oh well, I’ve always believed that to tell what a politician will do you have to go back to what they said/ did prior to the general election, because anything a politician says during the GE is just lies and half truths to get votes (yes, I am that cynical). In november ’07 BO said he wanted to cancel constellation. It’s probable that the Augustine committee and now any new NASA study will give him the ammunition to do just that.

    At any rate, I think I’ll be updateing my resume on careerbuilder, monster, etc just in case…

  • common sense

    @Loki:

    Then I would hope that COTS-D or CCDev or anything lik them come about. So many at the highest levels of NASA and Congress have fought it that it may never come to be. Pretty sad huh? You lay the blame with the current WH but and since you seem to be part of Constelltion I sure hope you know better than that. Try and reflect what you did for the past 5 years (if you were at the inception of the CEV), try and connect the dots and tell us it was not doomed in the first place. Actually as soon as ESAS and the Ares/CEV choices were imposed by NASA. You’re blaming the wrong person(s) and it won’t help you. Sorry.

  • Loki

    @common sense

    I didn’t mean to sound like I was blaming the entire fiasco on Obama. There’s plenty of blame to go around, you’re right. Starting with Bush, Grifffin, and congresses controlled by both political parties. And I doubt things would be any better if McCain had won either. I’m just a little worried about the prospect of being unemployed, that’s all. The last time I was unemployed it took over a year for me to find a new job in the aerospace industry. In the meantime I had to make do with whatever I could find.

    It sucked then, but back then I had a car that was fully paid off, I was single, and didn’t have a house payment to worry about, only rent. Now I have a mortgage payment, a car payment, a lot of other bills to worry about, and to top it all off my wife is also an engineer and works on, you guessed it, the Orion project. Although she works for LM directly, while I’m only a contractor, so she’ll hopefully be placed somewhere else within LM. But if not, that’s pretty much the cherry on top of the crap sunday that will be my life should Orion get cancelled. Oh well.

  • common sense

    @Loki:

    “I’m just a little worried about the prospect of being unemployed, that’s all.”

    Believe me I know how you feel at least in part. All I was trying to tell you is to not get lost in denial. It won’t help. The program started to stink and to sink right after ESAS and the whole Ares/”Apollo” decision. Decisions were made without regard to the CEV Phase 1 proposals by the contractors (speculation by me but I don’t remember any such architecture proposed save for the “Apollo” capsule). At the CEV level they chose a crazy humongous capsule whose OML is different enough from Apollo to warrant a lot of analyses and tests. Not to mention the re-invention of AVCOAT. Now bear in mind the idea was to use existing knowledge and save money and so to me that was the beginning of the end budgetwise. And there were known issues about the SRB really early in the program about its lofting capabilities which were obviously ignored.

    Again denial won’t help. This WH may put a stake through the heart of the program but it so deserves it. Too bad.

    Make sure your resume is up to date and hope for a COTS-D like program to open. If it does not then you may blame the current Exploration/Operations leadership at NASA (I did not say the current Admin) and your favorite Congress people.

    Good luck to you.

  • Loki

    “The program started to stink and to sink right after ESAS and the whole Ares/”Apollo” decision.”

    I don’t think I’m in “denial”, if anything you’re preaching to the choir. I know as well as anyone, maybe better than some – insider knowledge and all that – how screwed up constellation is. Although most of the screwiness is due to Ares 1 as opposed to Orion. LM’s original proposal, pre-ESAS, was for a smaller, simpler capsule that could be launched atop an EELV. That definitely would have been better than the Ares based architecture.

    But, to paraphrase Luke Skywalker, “It’s not that I like the [constellation program], I hate it, but there’s nothing I can do about it.” Who knows, maybe in the long run things will work out for the better. It would certainly be nice to have a job that’s not at risk of disappearing with the next federal budget, which is what a private space industry would provide. But in the short term, there’s the very real possibility that myself and a lot of others will soon be out of our jobs. But whatever, who cares.

  • common sense

    ” LM’s original proposal, pre-ESAS, was for a smaller, simpler capsule that could be launched atop an EELV. ”

    Nope it was not. It was a pretty big lifting body:
    http://www.astronautix.com/craft/cevkheed.htm
    And it probably would have failed considering the size of the thing anyway. Totally unrealistic.

    “But whatever, who cares.”

    Well, I do. Somehow. Even though there is a lot of passionate bickering I don’t like to see people who like things I like, enough to work on them, not post on blogs, have tough times.

    But who around you spoke up to management, inside or outside NASA?

  • Major Tom

    “Nope it was not. It was a pretty big lifting body:
    http://www.astronautix.com/craft/cevkheed.htm
    And it probably would have failed considering the size of the thing anyway. Totally unrealistic.”

    I think someone may be thinking of the LockMart/Bigelow Crew Transport Vehicle (CTV) or “Orion-lite” described here:

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/32418057/ns/technology_and_science-space/

    FWIW…

  • common sense

    “I think someone may be thinking of the LockMart/Bigelow Crew Transport Vehicle (CTV) or “Orion-lite” described here:”

    Then it is the post CEV/Orion vehicle, not the pre Phase 2 vehicle. And I am almost certain it won’t go because of legal issues. When a vehicle has essentially been developed on NASA/government contract (be it CEV, OSP, or anything) I am sure you cannot use the design for another competitive bid. Especially LMT who got “billions” to develop the CEV. How fair would that be to say SpaceX or the others who developed their vehicles on their own cash?

    Anything is possible especially in politics but if I were the “other” space firms I’d make sure to prime my lawyers…

    Oh well…

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