Congress, NASA, Other, White House

Fiscal commission co-chairs take aim at commercial spaceflight

On Wednesday afternoon the co-chairmen of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, issued their proposal for reducing the federal budget deficit though a combination of discretionary spending cuts, mandatory spending savings, and tax reform. In particular, they identified $200 billion in “illustrative savings” in FY2015, $100 billion each in defense and domestic discretionary spending. Item number 24 (of 58) is the only one dealing directly with NASA:

Eliminate funding for commercial spaceflight. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) plans to spend $6 billion over the next five years to spur the development of American commercial spaceflight. This subsidy to the private sector is costly, and while commercial spaceflight is a worthy goal, it is unclear why the federal government should be subsidizing the training of the potential crews of such flights. Eliminating this program would save $1.2 billion in 2015.

The wording of the statement suggests that the co-chairs may not fully understand the purpose of this “subsidy”: it is not for “training of the potential crews of such flights”, but instead to help fund the development of those systems, for use by NASA for ISS crew access as well as potential provate markets. (The $1.2 billion figure is also questionable, since it’s based on the administration’s original request that has since been altered by Congress in the authorization bill signed into law last month. If anything, though, the number is likely to be higher than $1.2 billion in 2015 assuming the full $6 billion is eventually appropriated, given the smaller figures authorized versus the White House proposal for 2011-2013.) How much traction this plan will get from fellow members of the commission, let along the White House and Congress, remains to be seen, but it does suggest that commercial spaceflight advocates will need to sharpen their arguments about why spending federal dollars on commercial vehicle development is a wise investment.

Update: the Commercial Spaceflight Federation did respond late Wednesday to the commission’s proposal, effectively playing what could be called the Russia card. “Commercial Crew will in fact result in substantial cost savings to the U.S. taxpayer,” said CSF president Brett Alexander. “Eliminating Commercial Crew would result in total reliance on Russia to get to the Space Station and result in the loss of thousands of high-tech jobs here in the United States.”

129 comments to Fiscal commission co-chairs take aim at commercial spaceflight

  • Martijn Meijering

    This is part of the reason why we must a fight a division of the market between NASA for beyond LEO and “commercial” for LEO, or NASA for crew and commercial for cargo. And that means fighting the HLV is needed myth and the we cannot wait for depots myth.

    If there is to be such a division at all, it should be commercial for transport to LEO (or L1/L2) and NASA for in-space transport. Even that isn’t ideal, but at least it wouldn’t be disastrous.

    And killing the Shuttle stack and SDLV is more important than anything else. I’m getting more confident again in my belief I was initially right in my gut feeling that no authorization bill was better than a flawed one. You only have to kill SDLV once, since once it is dead, it will stay dead. There’s no urgency to commercial crew, since we can always fall back on Soyuz and Dragon is well on its way.

  • The net result of cutting commercial space flight funding will be an increase in costs for all low Earth orbit missions and that will mean fewer total missions for NASA as it reverts back to the old cost-plus funding formula.

    Better to cut the Heavy Lift vehicle development, the extra shuttle flight, and put as many eggs as America can in the Commercial basket. It’s the only way America will be able to fund an aggressive space program.

    LM says the can build Orion more cheaply and faster with less NASA oversight. Let’s give LM a chance!

  • MichaelC

    How does it feel commercial space fans?

    You wanted cheap, you are going to get so much cheap you will be out of business.

  • Coastal Ron

    MichaelC wrote @ November 10th, 2010 at 5:33 pm

    You wanted cheap, you are going to get so much cheap you will be out of business.

    And you think NASA spending more money for non-exploration is a good thing? Weird

  • Major Tom

    It’s hard to get too worked up about this. These are only “illustrative savings” in a “proposal” from only the chairs of a commission. These don’t become binding recommendations unless they’re included in a final package that at least 14 of the 18 commission members must vote for. Even then, the package would still be subject to an up-or-down vote in Congress and Presidential veto. The nation very much needs this commission to work, but any particular “illustrative — proposal” from the chairs at this time is a longshot, at best.

    That said, it may be critical at some future point in time for NASA to point out just how dependent the agency’s human space flight efforts now are on COTS and CCDev. Whether they’re commercial or not, unless some of those COTS and CCDev vehicles become operational, the U.S. civil human space flight program in general, and the International Space Station in particular, will be reliant on Russian Soyuzes for crew transport and various foreign cargo vehicles (Progress, ATV, HTV) for the indefinite future.

    FWIW…

  • Major Tom

    “… you are going to get so much cheap you will be out of business.”

    None of the COTS or CCDev companies will go out of business if COTS and CCDev disappear tomorrow. They all have multiple lines of business outside COTS and CCDev.

    Moreover, a select number of these companies have plans and funds to develop commercial launch and human space flight capabilities regardless of NASA funding. But without COTS and CCDev, those capabilities are unlikely to arrive in time to support the ISS or in a form that supports future NASA human space exploration programs.

    FWIW…

  • Martijn Meijering

    If the Obama administration still wants commercial crew (and we can’t be sure of that), then it might be wise to finally exercise that SpaceX COTS-D option as soon as possible, provided a CR still allows for it now that the authorization bill has been passed.

  • Vladislaw

    “You wanted cheap, you are going to get so much cheap you will be out of business.”

    So your most heartfelt desire is to see privately owned small businesses fail and increase the unemployment rate? SpaceX has a long list of launches to make for non NASA customers, I take it you think it would be a good thing if SpaceX went belly up?

    A sad state of affairs when you want a private sector of the US economy to dry up and die at the same time you express a desire that the US has to stay number one in the same sector that you express a desire for it to go out of business.

  • Mark R. Whittington

    I would suggest that, from a reading of the recommendation , the argument had better not be “but commercial space is a good thing!” The co chairs acknowledge that. They dispute, though, that the government should subsidize commercial space. Fans of Obamaspace have never made a convincing case why it should.

  • The whole point of the government investing in commercial space was to accelerate the private sector so we wouldn’t have to rely on the Russians to reach the ISS (a decision made during the Bush administration).

    Commercial space will happen with or without government subsidy, but it will be later than sooner. Meanwhile, we’ll continue to pay the Russians $50 million or $60 million or $100 million or whatever they choose to charge per person because they’re the only game in town.

  • CharlesHouston

    We should be honest that “commercial crew” or “commercial cargo” is an idealized notion. No commercial operator independently funds a launch site, tracking, etc – even in New Mexico that required government intervention.

    Of course UPS and Fedex would not be making money without enormous government investment in roads, airports, FAA radar, etc.

    This is a warning that commercialization, and I wonder about space in general, could be the low hanging fruit. At some point the budget cutters will be asking why the government is developing a capsule (now called the Multi Purpose Something Or The Other) and simultaneously funding the competition. I believe that this is a laudable effort but what about the rest of the country???

  • I’ll say it again. NASA needs commercial space much more than commercial space needs NASA.

  • And in related news, Florida Today reports that the Webb Space Telescope is billions over budget:

    http://www.floridatoday.com/article/20101110/NEWS02/101110037/1086/NASA+s+new+space+telescope+costs+overbudget+

    The cost has gone up from $3.5 billion to $6.5 billion, and due to delays won’t launch until September 2015 at the earliest.

    Stuff like this makes the NASA budget low-hanging fruit for budget pruners.

  • Robert G. Oler

    I agree with most of what Major Tom has said.

    From a politics standpoint what is going to be interesting is how this information affects the debate over taxes/spending. Particularly as the GOP gets all lathered up over preserving the tax cuts for the high end among us.

    As the “rest of the people” see what cuts are needed to bring the deficit in line, they are going to in my view be more interested in taxing more heavily the more wealthy in our society.

    Here is a hint…which do you think that the middle class want more…Tax cuts for Limbaugh or the interest on home loans exemption?

    tick tock tick tock

    Robert G. Oler

  • amightywind

    These budget proposals are gutsy on many levels. Eliminating redundant government funded access to space is natural. The US needs one set of boosters for exploration – one for manned launch, one for heavy lift. We don’t need to be funding the space fantasies of billionaires. If commercial space is to survive, development must be funded by private sources.

  • common sense

    @MichaelC wrote @ November 10th, 2010 at 5:33 pm

    “How does it feel commercial space fans?

    You wanted cheap, you are going to get so much cheap you will be out of business.”

    Oh yeah! Rejoice! Commercial enterprises may take a hit in the US at this time of financial debacle! Wheeh!

    Disgraceful.

  • Robert G. Oler

    http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2010/11/sts-133-structural-defectcrack-found-on-et-137/

    it is slowly approaching that moment when we just ground the fleet and call it even, before someone else gets killed

    Robert G. Oler

  • MichaelC

    “The cost has gone up from $3.5 billion to $6.5 billion, and due to delays won’t launch until September 2015 at the earliest.
    Stuff like this makes the NASA budget low-hanging fruit for budget pruners.”

    Sad but true. I do not know much about the Webb: will we will be able to detect earth like planets with it?

    I seem to remember as kid a half century ago there was actually talk about going to another star in the next century.

    As a worshiping member of the Apollo Cargo Cult, I wonder what happened to our explorer “spirit” as a nation.

    I think the best American history lesson I ever had was the movie “Last of the Mohicans.” The Mohicans were an Indian tribe with only two survivors- a middle aged man and his 20 something son. After escaping an Indian Massacre the hero explains to his love interest why people were coming to this violent frontier. With two superpowers fighting over it, with settlers and Indians arranged in various factions, it was a dangerous place to try and live by primitive muscle farming. But Europe was a shithole.

    It would be nice to have someplace to go and make a new start where all you have to do is work hard and be brave and you will succeed beyond your wildest dreams.

    Or there is the cowboy characterization of the American Character.

  • MichaelC

    “I’ll say it again. NASA needs commercial space much more than commercial space needs NASA.”

    Go tell it on the mountain Rand!

  • Robert G. Oler

    MichaelC wrote @ November 10th, 2010 at 7:26 pm

    I think the best American history lesson I ever had was the movie “Last of the Mohicans.”

    if you are getting your history from movies, that is when you become part of the problem, not part of the solution.

    There are movies that try and be faithful to history but are still movies and then there are those which dont even pretend to be…

    Robert G. Oler

  • Doug Lassiter

    “As a worshiping member of the Apollo Cargo Cult, I wonder what happened to our explorer “spirit” as a nation. ”

    That spirit is alive and well, in mission control centers that are operating telerobotic probes. We’re doing great things, seeing new things, and being surprised at what we see. And we go home at night. We’re there, but just not in the flesh. Seriously, advanced robotics, including autonomous operations and high bandwidth communications, are replacing and will increasingly obviate the need for, the in situ human explorer. Except for colonization. As soon as we admit the importance of moving our civilization to other worlds, that original explorer spirit will return. That will take hard work and physical bravery. It won’t return because of science, national security, or even resource capitalization.

    Look, the same is true for personal relationships and communications. It used to be about traveling somewhere. Shake hands, meet eyes, coexist. Now we text and twitter. National security as well. We used to hold arrows, guns, and knives. Now we use pushbuttons and joysticks for aircraft drones and missles. It isn’t about traveling somewhere anymore. Welcome to the new world. That’s a hard cultural lesson, but we’ll absorb it eventually.

  • Craig Eddy

    So we can subsidize totally un-workable “green energy” that will never show a profit much less technological benefit to the nation, and that’s not a waste?

  • Byeman

    “Go tell it on the mountain Rand”

    NASA agrees and is taking the initiative but procuring commercial services. Been involved with 4 procurements and more are on the horizon.

  • Byeman

    “I wonder what happened to our explorer “spirit” as a nation.”

    It exists. It is in the proper place, the commercial sector and not the gov’t sector.
    Governments funded explorations but did not perform the function.

  • A_M_Swallow

    …. (NASA) plans to spend $6 billion over the next five years to spur the development of American commercial spaceflight.
    The description of the proposed cuts is making me suspicious. Depending on when the start date for the cost estimates is Congress may end up cancelling Project Constellation, again.

  • Rhyolite

    This is casual dishonesty and ignorance.

    Commercial contracts are the lowest cost way of keeping the US commitment to ISS. Buying a product you need at the lowest possible cost is not a subsidy. Calling it a subsidy is simply dishonest.

    Moreover, it has COTS has nothing to do with crew training so they appear to be ignorant of the basic purpose of the program.

    So much for the credibility of this commission.

  • vulture4

    The ETs are expendable and pretty similar to ELVs in construction. A similar crack occurred once before and was repaired.

    When NACA was originally formed, in 1915, its entire mission was to support commercial industry, not through operating subsidies but by financing research and developmentand prototype fabricaiton that industry could not afford. . Government funding for R&D is essential to commercial aerospace industry, and other countries use it to accelerate technological progress. China is paying its aerospace firms to learn to build large composite structures. If NASA had done so maybe the 787 would not be three years behind schedule.

  • ISSvet

    This proposal says more about the Commission than it does about NASA or commercial space. If it is representative of the quality of information and logic used in the rest of the “illustrative savings”, then the whole exercise is a waste of time.

  • reader

    Commercial space will happen with or without government subsidy, but it will be later than sooner.
    Uh .. it happened in 1962. It was called Telstar

  • DCSCA

    “The wording of the statement suggests that the co-chairs may not fully understand the purpose of this “subsidy”…”

    Yes they do. And so do the American people, particularly the ‘tea party’ crowd and GOP generalists who shun all things ‘socialist’ which subsidizing commercial space projects clear is.

  • DCSCA

    @Robert G. Oler wrote @ November 10th, 2010 at 7:21 pm

    You may be correct. At this point in flight operations, these kind of flaws and defects should have been cleared up years ago and not be appearing weeks, days or hours before a launch. Same with the hydrogen leak problem. Given the mind set of austerity forming in Congress, the quicker this program is put to bed now, the better. At this point, there’s little national pride left to be flying leaky antiques that a year from now will be museum pieces.

  • DCSCA

    @Vladislaw wrote @ November 10th, 2010 at 6:24 pm

    “A sad state of affairs when you want a private sector of the US economy to dry up and die at the same time you express a desire that the US has to stay number one in the same sector that you express a desire for it to go out of business.”

    The private capital markets await commerical spacemen knocking on their doors. As for SpaceX… since Oler brought up ‘tick-tock’… they’ve still not flown a Dragon as of November 10. Whether they go ‘belly up’ or not is really up to the forces at work in free market. Cutting Granny’s social security and medicare but subsidizing commercial space won’t wash in this climate. The Age of Austerity is close at hand. But Branson appears to be on the right track.

  • aremisasling

    If we’re going to start cutting things with clearly no understanding of what they are for, I think we’re screwed. I’m not talking just Commercial Space. If they are seriously going to recommend we cut this program based on a total misunderstanding of its purpose or costs I fear, not so much for comspace, but for the nation as a whole.

    I’m fairly fiscally conservative. I think we should cut the deficit and start paying down the debt (which is why I don’t support the continuation of the tax cuts and never have). But under no circumstances do I think we should pull out a budgetary bazooka and start blasting anything that moves with clearly minimal consideration to what it is or what it is for. Sure, we’ve got so much garbage out there that 9 times out of 10 we’re going to hit something that can be cut somehow. And I fully expect to se things that I support get hit by the axe. But blind fiscal policy got us to where we are and it isn’t going to get us out.

  • Robert G. Oler

    DCSCA wrote @ November 11th, 2010 at 1:24 am
    . As for SpaceX… since Oler brought up ‘tick-tock’… they’ve still not flown a Dragon as of November 10.

    Boeings Dreamliner just (recently) had an emergency landing at Laredo because of fire in the airplane. The plane is three years late….dont worry they will get it done…as will SpaceX

    Robert G. Oler

  • Anthony Cook

    The Commission on Financial Responsibility and Reform invites comments, so I hope you will also send them your ideas. Most politicians have not spent the time to understand all of the implications and possibilities of a relatively small investment in COTS. Educate them! Be courteous and brief, but if you make some arguments that are helpful to their task of cutting government waste, you might change their minds!

  • I don’t understand some people’s antipathy to commercial space flight getting a little funding in respect to NASA built rockets, in which the former obviously is cheaper in the short and long term.

    Transportation systems in the US have historically received at least some federal government funding; from canals to the Interstate Highway System.

    Why must commercial space transportation to LEO be singled out specifically to rely totally on its own resources?

    IMHO, it’s completely political in nature, nothing more. It’s got everything to do with spreading money to NASA Centers’ Congressional Districts. Just like it was with the STS almost forty years ago.

  • NASA Fan

    NASA and the dysfunction surrounding it will waste more of the “Commercial Money’, that what we’ll pay the Russians. Just watch.

    It’s already started indeed, as Jeff notes in his blog, congress doesn’t even understand what the money is for – its not to train crews, it’s to build a rocket.

  • Dennis Berube

    Heres the problem, if our government, NASA, is going to fund commercial, why dont they fund my commercial enterprise? Why one and not the other. Shouuld our government keep bailing out auto makers? Should they finance commercial and then have to pay to ride aboard. Wheres the deal. If I start a business and have someone else pay for it, then charge them for it too, that is a no lose deal. Im for commercial if they go it on their own. Im for science, and military leadership, and these are the fields where our government needs to lead, not financing commercial enterprise.

  • Dennis Berube

    Here is another area of concern. Cost overruns. James Webb telescope is one billion and a half over budget?? Why was this allowed? Here is where NASA needs to begin puting its foot down. We will no doubt gain much science from James Webb, but it should only come at a fair and honest price. These people think they can just keep jumping the price tag up and up. This is the same thing with regards to manned flight. Cost overruns.

  • Dennis Berube

    You that yell you want robots to explore space instead of men, and then you yell about cost overruns. Here is yet another example! The James Webb telescope is estimated to have a cost overrun of 1 and 1/2 Billion dollars? You see gents, it seems that this happens in both manned and unmanned space planning. Its just not right and should be stopped. NASA needs management that will watch and prevent these happenings.

  • Heres the problem, if our government, NASA, is going to fund commercial, why dont they fund my commercial enterprise?

    Because your commercial enterprise doesn’t provide NASA with a needed service?

  • Anne Spudis

    http://blogs.airspacemag.com/moon/2010/07/10/nasa%E2%80%99s-new-mission-and-the-cult-of-management/

    ..”Currently, the “right stuff” manifests itself as a pattern of waiting for a propitious political opportunity and a few far-seeing people to seize the day and push through something that otherwise would be buried by “process.” In my opinion, the Vision for Space Exploration was such an opportunity – a path forward, achievable in stages, that would have created a legacy of space faring capability. The idea of actually doing something made the Vision a nonstarter to many within the agency – it challenged their worldview of process over product. They are content to merely manage an organization. The goal of leading America and the world into the Solar System has become a slogan in a strategic plan, an ever-fading banner over an office door.” …

  • Ferris Valyn

    Im for science, and military leadership,

    And NASA HSF does neither of these. So whats your point?

  • Robert G. Oler

    Anne Spudis wrote @ November 11th, 2010 at 10:42 am

    yet another quote from your husband.

    odd it strikes me having read his missive that with so many thunderheads inside of NASA he doesnt support the changes that are being made

    Robert G. Oler

  • E.P. Grondine

    Since I have a strange sense of humor, I need to identify the following as a JOKE.

    It is a wonder that the commission did not advise shutting NASA down entirely and hiring Walmart to buy our space program from China, as it would be cheaper than buying it from Russia.

    Oh yeah, that’s right we already owe China $1.5 trillion.

    END JOKE

    I want to note seriously that the reliance on Russia now for manned LEO is entirely due to former Okeefe’s and Griffin’s actions under W.

    We are all already in space, passengers on spaceship Earth. This entails keeping that vessel operating. This fundamental paradigm shift in thinking has not been understood by many yet.

    Once one understands how large the impact hazard really is, that change occurs.

    As far as JWST, a small part of the money would have been more prudently spent on NEO detection. While understanding the cosmos is a good long term goal, we have a rather immediate pressing need to find the next piece of stuff headed our way first. The problem is that bad.

    As far as Senator Nelson’s concerns goes, I do not understand the reason for the new trade studies put out the other day either. His reference to Garver is interesting, and I wonder why he made it.

  • Somehow I don’t think that CSF is really all that concerned about us making use of Russian Soyuz flight, when it’s membership includes:

    Art Duda, CEO of Excalibur Aimaz, which wants to use upgraded Soviet military space capsules for tourism.

    Eric Anderson, CEO of Space Adventures, which specifically buys seats on Russian Soyuz flights for billionaires.

    Peter Diamandis, co-founder and director of Space Adventures.

  • googaw

    I’ll say it again. NASA needs commercial space much more than commercial space needs NASA.

    Every NewSpace orbital HSF project except Falcon is utterly dependent on NASA to the extent that they have any customers at all. The only reason Falcon has the potential to break free of NASA is because it never was first and foremost an HSF project. Musk and company had the wisdom to design their rocket for real commerce (that is for what non-space-agency customers want to actually launch, namely satellites) and make their space-agency-inspired HSF daydream, Dragon, fit the form factor of a satellite launcher rather than vice versa.

  • I agree that this is a really, really bad idea, for the nation’s future and for our economic success right now. However, to cut the deficit solely or even largely on the spending side will require a lot of similarly bad decisions. My Republican friends have consistently said we could solve all our problems by cutting spending without actually saying, for the most part, what they will cut. Well, somebody, including some Republicans, has finally had the guts to make a list. You start asking for exceptions, and the whole thing will unravel real fast — I suspect the the political reality is that this is a package that will be passed whole or not at all. My Tea Party and many of my Republican friends insist that cutting the deficit must be our highest priority as a nation. If so, than all of us, including us here, will have to sacrifice some really, really important priorities. If cutting spending is not our highest priority — if, there really are higher priorities — than we, and Republicans especially, better start identifying some taxes to raise.

    – Donald

  • googaw

    Rejoice! Commercial enterprises may take a hit in the US at this time of financial debacle!

    What nonsense. Cutting out subsidies for fake fantasy “commerce” so that U.S. space companies can focus on real space commerce is the best thing that that could happen to strengthen U.S. space exports, which are desperately needed to pay for the burgeoning U.S. debt to which our idiotic NASA HSF program has contributed hundreds of billions of dollars. Instead of putting my children in further debt to Asia the U.S. space industry should be selling satellites to and launching satellites for Asia. Of course, the monstrous Shuttle/Constellation/SLS bureaucracy is a far greater source of such expenditures than NASA-funded fake commerce, but cutting out the fraudulent faction that was trying to sell us on the idiotic idea that HSF is economical (thereby helping to justify the rest) is a good start.

    The “commerce” argument has now been unmasked as a fraud, and the “national security” argument soon will be. You NASA contractor shills need to put your sales skills into selling launches and satellites to Asia instead of into enslaving my children into debt into Asia. Please.

  • Vladislaw

    Actually, not everyone that has flown commercially on soyuz were billionaires.

  • googaw

    Commercial space will happen with or without government subsidy, but it will be later than sooner.

    reader responds:
    Uh .. it happened in 1962. It was called Telstar.

    Reader, how dare you let reality intrude into these wonderful HSF fantasies? Don’t you know that if it doesn’t involve launching a holy celestial pilgrim it doesn’t exist? Bishop Berkeley says that nothing those peasants do outside the bounds of our holy secular monastery of the mind is real.

    The threads on this forum usually bear about the same relationship to real space development as the World of Warcraft bears to our actual military. As witnessed by the many posters who when they say “commerce” mean only fake fantasy commerce, 99.5% funded by space agencies launching astronauts for the sake of launching astronauts. If it actually involves private companies serving private customers by actually doing useful things, like communicating bits around the world on those boring unmanned satellites, it doesn’t exist.

    Now back to your standard NASA contractor shilling for government-funded projects to make your sci-fi economic fantasies come true. Or at least to produce many slick PowerPoint slides that say they will.

  • Somehow I don’t think that CSF is really all that concerned about us making use of Russian Soyuz flight, when it’s membership includes

    This is stupid. Space Adventures would love to have a domestic supplier for its customers.

  • googaw

    Because your commercial enterprise doesn’t provide NASA with a needed service?

    How is the ISS a “needed service”?

  • How is the ISS a “needed service”?

    Argue that with Congress and the White House.

  • Vladislaw

    “You NASA contractor shills need to put your sales skills into selling launches and satellites to Asia instead of into enslaving my children into debt into Asia. Please.”

    The federal government takes in tax revenue, for me, that part of the NASA budget going to help create a domestic commercial market is coming out of THOSE tax revenues and therefore are not contributing to the deficit or national debt at all. The unfunded tax cuts since reagan and the unfunded wars are what created the debt. If you have a problem with debt it belongs in those catagories, as far as I am concerned, commercial funding is paid for from current and future tax revenues.

  • The unfunded tax cuts since reagan

    What is an “unfunded tax cut”?

  • Anne Spudis

    Robert G. Oler wrote @ November 11th, 2010 at 11:30 am [odd it strikes me having read his missive that with so many thunderheads inside of NASA he doesnt support the changes that are being made]

    Perhaps you haven’t read enough of his missives to understand his position.

  • googaw

    me:
    How is the ISS a “needed service”?

    Rand:
    Argue that with Congress and the White House.

    I’m arguing it with you, because you’re the one who made this claim in an attempt justify forcing my children pay for your pet project.

  • googaw

    Yes of course Vladislaw, it’s always those other guys lobbying to spend federal money on their projects that create the deficit. You lobbying for federal money to be spent on your favorite projects do not create anything except wonderful fuzzies. It’s magic like that.

  • I’m arguing it with you, because you’re the one who made this claim in an attempt justify forcing my children pay for your pet project.

    As long as Congress and the White House insist that NASA maintain its international commitments with ISS, it is a needed service. Sorry.

  • Coastal Ron

    Anne Spudis wrote @ November 11th, 2010 at 3:57 pm

    Perhaps you haven’t read enough of his missives to understand his position.

    If he can’t get a simple point across, then maybe there is simply no point?

    Paul’s opinions are as valid as anyone else’s (like mine), but sometimes his conclusions are biased by his desires to have NASA focus exclusively on the Moon.

    How was that excerpt related to the current conversation?

  • googaw

    By Rand’s logic, because Congress already funds the ISS, that per se makes it a “needed service” — no actual analysis of the supposed utility of said white elephant required. By the same logic, as long as Congress fails to fund Commercial Crew, said project is by definition not a needed service. By Rand’s own tail-chasing definition of “needed service” Commercial Crew is not a needed service and Rand has succeeded quite well in contradicting himself.

  • Byeman

    “Somehow I don’t think that CSF is really all that concerned about us making use of Russian Soyuz flight, when it’s membership includes:”

    And somehow you are wrong. 3 members out of more than 20 does not indicate a trend or consensus. You are making bad conclusions.

  • Coastal Ron

    googaw wrote @ November 11th, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    I’m arguing it with you, because you’re the one who made this claim in an attempt justify forcing my children pay for your pet project.

    The ISS is certainly a research program, since the outcome of it’s efforts is knowledge, and not any measurable products or services. But I believe that it could lead to measurable products and services one day, and so I support it’s continuing operations.

    But to continue to operate it means that we need to staff it, and that is where the “need” comes from for crew transportation – NASA needs some way to get people to/from the ISS. There are really three basic choices here:

    1. Continue to pay the Russians for Soyuz trips
    2. NASA can build and operate the SLS/MPCV for crew rotation
    3. NASA can contract with commercial providers

    For those that scream “SUBSIDY”, look at the total cost outlay choices and tell me, what would be cheaper?

    I’ve done the math already, and NASA could replace Soyuz with Dragon ($300M to man-rate + $140M/trip for 3 crew) and it would cost the same for the 2016-20 period – maybe even be cheaper with Dragon depending on how much the Russians raise their prices after 2015.

    I don’t care what you call the transfer of money from NASA to a company performing contracted services, all I care about is the overall cost for that service. Commercial can do it for far less.

  • By Rand’s logic, because Congress already funds the ISS, that per se makes it a “needed service” — no actual analysis of the supposed utility of said white elephant required. By the same logic, as long as Congress fails to fund Commercial Crew, said project is by definition not a needed service.

    No, failure to fund Commercial Crew just means that the needed service will continue to be provided by the Russians.

    Do you ever think before you post?

    For the record, I have never supported ISS. But as long as Congress and the administration insist on continuing it, we might as well get some value out of it by developing a robust domestic transportation architecture for human access to space.

  • By the way, for anyone interested, I responded to the ignorance of the Deficit Commission report at National Review yesterday.

  • Vladislaw

    Rand Simberg wrote:

    What is an “unfunded tax cut”?

    Reagan said he wanted tax cuts, if you have spending being appropriated above tax revenues you run a deficit. When asked Reagan said the tax cuts could be afforded and fix the deficit because the level of spending would be cut to offset the loss of revenue.

    It was the same with Bush 43. He said he could cut taxes and make up the loss of revenue by cutting spending.

    We may not like all spending, or the budget process, but it is what it is. If the federal government has spending set at X and then proposes to cut the revenue side of the accounting table without cuts on the spending side of the equation we will have deficits.

    Both Reagan and Bush said they could cut taxes and spending. But unfortunately the only side that gets cut is the revenue side. It is just what we are facing now with the extention of the tax cuts. If the top 2% get the tax extention there will be a loss of 700 billion in projected revenue. Unless you cut spending to offset it, it will be unfunded relative to the spending side and a deficit will result.

    So the bottom line is an unfunded tax cut is where you do not offset spending to account for the loss of revenue.Most cases it is argued that the revenue loss will offset by the growth in economic activity leading to higher overall tax revenues.

    I know the term has been around since at least the 1980′s when I was studying economics. If you have trouble with the symantics then give me another word to use.

  • common sense

    @Donald F. Robertson wrote @ November 11th, 2010 at 1:33 pm

    “My Tea Party and many of my Republican friends insist that cutting the deficit must be our highest priority as a nation. If so, than all of us, including us here, will have to sacrifice some really, really important priorities. If cutting spending is not our highest priority — if, there really are higher priorities — than we, and Republicans especially, better start identifying some taxes to raise.”

    Well Donald so much in so few sentences. The “cutting deficit” issue is a political argument. So much so that as you said, so far, no one had identified what to cut. So much so that one of the main thing to cut is a meager $1.2B for commercial crew. In what way should that be taken seriously? What does it say about the rest of the suggested cuts? I did not look at the membership of the bipartisan commission but hey come on! There are a lot more waste to be cut in the DoD for example. Let me give you an example: Every so many years some one comes up with a LH2 powered hypersonic cruise vehicle. In the end the answer is always, ALWAYS, the same: Won’t happen! Why might you ask? Because of hydrogen density which makes the vehicle as long as a football field, even if it is a waverider. Now one might argue that the HCV only is the tree hiding the forest of something else, nonetheless. http://www.globalsecurity.org/space/systems/hcv.htm

    Now how about farm subsidies? You want to cut some real waste? All of this is a circus as usual.

  • I know the term has been around since at least the 1980′s when I was studying economics. If you have trouble with the symantics then give me another word to use.

    You probably learned it from some “economics” professor who nonsensically believes that a reduction in taxes is equivalent to a government expenditure. It’s not. There is no such thing as an “unfunded tax cut.” Yes, if you decrease revenues more than you decrease spending it will increase the deficit (though it is impossible to know what the revenue effect of a rate change will be), but it makes no sense to talk about “funding” a tax cut, particularly when it is done by not spending money.

  • Bennett

    it is impossible to know what the revenue effect of a rate change will be

    However, since Reagan implemented “trickle down economics” via his tax rate cuts to corporations and the wealthiest Americans, we have seen the total destruction of America’s middle class.

    It just doesn’t work in a unfettered capitalist system. The very rich are inclined (eager) to pay and lobby to rig the system to provide obscene transfers of wealth from the lower 90% to the top 10%. Hey, at least their families are set for generations… Obviously the same goes for Wall Street fund managers.

    When economists protest, they’re slandered with labels of “socialist” and whatever propaganda seems fit to discredit their very valid claims of harm to the overall health of our country.

    I wish it wasn’t so, but it is.

  • DCSCA

    Robert G. Oler wrote @ November 11th, 2010 at 1:42 am

    Citing another commercial program, aviation no less, behind schedule as a rationale for SpaceX not meeting schedules is pretty poor. Part of ‘commerical’s’ selling point is to be on time and for less; to meet schedules and deadlines as well as turn a profit for investors. We already have a space program, government run, quite capable of not launching on time and incurring cost overruns.

  • Gregori

    Commercial space may be desirable if it can be shown to significantly lower costs to NASA, increase safety, offers quick turn around times and add new capabilities. Having fix priced contracts might help to that end, in the sense that these are pretty well established technologies since the 1960′s. Not much of is amazing and ground breaking ( nor does it have to be!!! It works!!)

    I’m confused at the spite being directed towards commercial space and the hoping it will fail. Especially to those calling it “socialism”. It very well may be a form of “socialism” but this is applying a HUGE double standard.

    Under SLS/Orion, private contractors like Boeing and Lockheed are going to be paid to develop these systems with government money. Nobody is insisting that these companies should have to solicit private finance to develop these system to eventually sell the service to the government. And it wouldn’t really work in practice anyway, that’s why nobody is doing it. So this shouldn’t be expected from commercial space flight either. It sets them in a situation of unfair competition against a government funded rocket that has a much bigger budget than commercial competitors could ever imagine getting.

    If we’re really hardcore against “socialism” in space systems…. neither SLS/Orion or Commercial space would be getting any government money until they developed systems from private capital. That’s completely unrealistic and we just end up with no human access to space for the purpose of being moral idealists.

    In the end of the day, we’re going to be making handouts to corporations for services that are not really essential to the public’s well being or economic lively hood. Its really just a matter of which corporations we’re picking, how we plan to spend the money and for what we’re getting in return.

    Not having manned spaceflight would not be a crisis!!! Plenty of countries do fine without such a program. But I do think its is desirable and its an expression of who we are as a species. More a metaphysical thing. I think that has intangible value. We’re centuries away from doing these things for economic reasons!!

    I believe it would be incredibly myopic to cut NASA’s tiny fraction of the budget. Even if they got rid of NASA all together, the US would still have huge debt problems. I think there is value in funding both the HLV and Commercial Crew. If one runs late or fails, the other could be there to save the say. Commercial crew has never been tried before, so it would be mistaken to assume it will be flowers and sunshine. Hopefully it does work and kills nobody!!!

    In defense of funding commercial crew, the NASA HLV is a resource only NASA can use. It can’t economically expand to doing other useful things in space. Commercial services can be bought by multiple companies, individuals, governments, agencies etc etc. It has room to grow and be a source of economic growth. NASA will still be probably the main customer for a long time but that’s at least an improvement over it being the only customer.

    Anyways, to the comment ” NASA needs commercial space more than commercial space needs NASA….* That made me piss myself laughing. I can’t believe anybody would actually believe or take that notion seriously.

    Commercial spaceflight could wither and die tomorrow and NASA would actually just fine. It wouldn’t be the bastion of efficiency or best use of resources but it would be just fine. Its survived more than 50 good years without such a thing. If NASA just decided not to fund such ventures, they would probably wither and die. Its happened to countless companies in this sector. I don’t think this is necessarily a good deal for NASA, but its not fatal, like it will be for small start up aerospace companies!!

    SpaceX and Orbital would likely survive because they’re providing the only service that ever made any economic sense in space…. satellites!!!
    Virgin galactic might also survive provide it doesn’t kill anybody in the next few years, but it doesn’t provide expensive orbital services so I don’t even count it in the same league. It barely goes into space.

    Most “commercial” spaceflight companies are pretty much aiming their services at Government. There representative bodies make hysterical lobbying campaigns about how the scary Russians, to make sure the funding goes their way. Without it, they have no market and private investment will run scared. I heard ridiculous claims from these groups about how “ordinary” peoples chances of going to space were being harmed by the government not funding these companies… how they were on the cusp of providing MILLIONS of new jobs!!! Total lies and fantasies!!

    I’m not bring anti-commercial space btw. I think if they could reduce launch costs by 75-50 percent, that would be of great benefit. The government could afford to do more stuff in space!! Countries all over the world could easier afford to have their own satellites!! TV, Broadband companies can send satellites for cheaper. Over supply of manned capsules and space station components would make a limited from of space tourism and R&D possible.

    Despite all the hype, Its not going to be the next aviation industry!!! Not unless there is a fundamental technological shift in how we get things into and back from space. A shift comparable to the shift from vacuum tubes to the transistor in computing!!! That will probably take a few decades.

    This probably means full re-usability 100′s -1000′s of times per craft (and not how the shuttle did it) or a space elevator. The technological problems of those two are REALLY REALLY hard and probably very expensive. I’m willing to bet they’ll be funded by the government for a few decades, but once the breakthroughs have been made, the technology will be privatized and it will be a trillion dollar industry.

  • Martijn Meijering

    Good post, Gregori.

    Its really just a matter of which corporations we’re picking

    I would say it’s more a matter of how we pick corporations. If we use full and open competition, then we don’t really pick any corporations, unlike under the old system. Incidentally this means that “Old Space” would likely still play a major, possibly even a dominant, role under the new system. They would however provide more value to NASA for the same amount of money and NASA would provide more benefit to society for the same amount of money. Whether even that would be a net benefit is debatable, but that’s another discussion.

  • However, since Reagan implemented “trickle down economics” via his tax rate cuts to corporations and the wealthiest Americans, we have seen the total destruction of America’s middle class.

    Even if this were true, correlation is not causation. How in the world would cutting tax rates for the upper incomes and corporations hurt the middle class?

  • Anyways, to the comment ” NASA needs commercial space more than commercial space needs NASA….* That made me piss myself laughing. I can’t believe anybody would actually believe or take that notion seriously.

    Commercial spaceflight could wither and die tomorrow and NASA would actually just fine. It wouldn’t be the bastion of efficiency or best use of resources but it would be just fine.

    Let me refine the comment, then. I meant that if NASA is to accomplish the things that it has ostensibly been tasked with (i.e., regularly sending people into space and then beyond earth orbit), then it needs commercial space. If it is just a make-work jobs program for HLV designers that never actually flies a vehicle, then I agree, it will do just fine without commercial space.

  • Byeman

    “We already have a space program, government run, quite capable of not launching on time and incurring cost overruns.”

    Nuspace can do it for less money and have more projects.

  • Byeman

    “Anyways, to the comment ” NASA needs commercial space more than commercial space needs NASA….* That made me piss myself laughing. I can’t believe anybody would actually believe or take that notion seriously. ”

    You are the one that can’t be taken seriously. The ISS can not be supported without CRS. NASA has placed the success of the ISS on development of commercial cargo services. NASA does not have a backup equivalent government operated function.

  • William Mellberg

    Robert G. Oler wrote:

    “Boeings Dreamliner just (recently) had an emergency landing at Laredo because of fire in the airplane. The plane is three years late….dont worry they will get it done…as will SpaceX.”

    What a horrendous example to cite in support of so-called “commercial” human spaceflight. Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner has turned into a commercial nightmare. The company is losing millions of dollars in contractural penalty payments for each day deliveries fall further behind schedule. They’ve suffered cancellations, as well. The fire will only add more months to the delays, and more millions to the penalty payments (i.e., financial losses). To paraphrase the old Oldsmobile ads, this is not your father’s Boeing! The 787 is the product of a new generation of Boeing engineers and managers — NOT the people who brought us the world-beating 707, 727, 737, 747, 757, 767 and 777. Ask some of the Old Timers who created those earlier aircraft and they’ll tell you the same thing. While Boeing will hopefully get the 787 into service later next year (at long last), the break-even number climbs higher every day; and Airbus gets closer every day to flying their own A350. It is a situation that never would have occurred under the leadership of Bill Allen, T.A. Wilson, Maynard Pennell, Joe Sutter, Jack Steiner or Malcolm Stamper. Those were the giants who built Boeing’s reputation — a reputation that is being tarnished by the 787′s endless snags, delays and overruns.

    All of which reminds me that today’s NASA isn’t yesterday’s NASA. Under Ms. Garver and the invisible Gen. Bolden, the space agency is in complete disarray, and morale couldn’t be lower. If it weren’t for the “space politics” of the Obama Administration, we would be one year closer to flying NASA astronauts aboard Orion spacecraft and Ares I launch vehicles. (It was just about one year ago that Ares I-X flew.) But the damage the Obama Administration has done to America’s space program is nothing compared to the destruction this President has inflicted upon the American economy and millions of peoples’ livelihoods and life savings. The man is as clueless about economics as he is about most everything else — including last week’s elections. Obama says he failed to get his message across. On the contrary, he’s gotten his “tax and spend” message across loudly and clearly. And a majority of Americans have clearly rejected it. Which, unfortunately, is going to hit NASA squarely in the budget.

    The message of November 2nd was “cut the waste.” The Fantasy World of ObamaSpace proponents will soon be coming to an end. Having destroyed the Constellation Program along the way, the Obama Administration has written ‘Finis’ to America’s space leadership as we take a “back seat” (to use the President’s term) to Russia and China in human spaceflight. The “gap” grows wider every day. An entire year has been wasted by partisan bickering and indecision. Does anyone know what NASA’s current “plan” is? Can anyone tell us where we’re going, when we’ll get there and how we’ll get there? Had the Apollo Program gone through this sort of aimless wandering in 1962, we never would have landed humans on the Moon in 1969 … if ever. Gene Cernan was right. ObamaSpace is a “blueprint for a mission to nowhere.” No target. No deadline. No plan. That’s no way to run ANY program. How pathetic. No wonder Gen. Bolden won’t face the press. How can he possibly explain the lack of leadership at NASA? We could sure use a Jim Webb, a Hugh Dryden, a Bob Seamans or a George Mueller at NASA HQ today. They were people with plenty of experience in science, engineering and program management — none of which Lori Garver has (and she seems to be running NASA in Bolden’s absence).

    Hopefully, two years from now, the American people will elect a president with some real world experience who surrounds himself with experts rather than sychophants. The Obamamania of two years ago has turned into the disillusionment of today. That certainly is the case with NASA. Remember when candidate Obama told space workers that he supported America’s return to the Moon and the Constellation Program? Another broken promise. And I haven’t heard much sympathy from the President for the thousands of high-tech workers that have lost their jobs, their homes and their livelihoods as a result of Constellation getting the axe. (Try selling your house if you’re an unemployed space worker in the Cape Canaveral area … or Huntsville or Clear Lake.)

    Meanwhile, kudos to Burt Rutan and Sir Richard Branson on a GENUINE “commerical” space program. But how many people will be able to fly on SpaceShipTwo? Elon Musk can talk about retiring on Mars and sending average people into space as he looks for taxpayer dollars to fund his own fantasies. But the fact of the matter is that the “market” for human spaceflight is virtually non-existent. And the first time Virgin Galactic suffers a serious accident, it will be even slimmer. Not too many “average” people will be willing to pay the price to risk their lives on a quick hop to 60 miles and back. That said, I wish Sir Richard all the best with his pioneering enterprise. At least he’s funding it with his own money and not at a government feeding trough.

    But what a tragedy that the world’s leading spacefaring nation has been reduced to NASA’s current situation. How the mighty have fallen.

    William Mellberg

  • William Mellberg

    “Hopefully, two years from now, the American people will elect a president with some real world experience who surrounds himself with experts rather than sychophants.”

    Excuse me. I should have written “himself or herself” as the next president could very well be a woman … possibly Hillary Clinton.

    William Mellberg

  • If it weren’t for the “space politics” of the Obama Administration, we would be one year closer to flying NASA astronauts aboard Orion spacecraft and Ares I launch vehicles.

    Not based on the empirical evidence. The schedule was slipping more than a year per year. NASA’s management problems predate the Obama administration.

    They were people with plenty of experience in science, engineering and program management — none of which Lori Garver has

    How much science, engineering and program management experience did Jim Webb have?

  • MichaelC

    “Anyways, to the comment ” NASA needs commercial space more than commercial space needs NASA….* That made me piss myself laughing. I can’t believe anybody would actually believe or take that notion seriously. ”

    I am laughing at commercial space right now; the only human destination they have is the white elephant in orbit.

    So with the caveat that manned commercial space flight needs nasa- it is pretty outrageously funny when someone reverses it.

  • William Mellberg

    Rand Simberg asked:

    “How much science, engineering and program management experience did Jim Webb have?”

    I didn’t say they ALL possessed all three (science, engineering and program management). But between them, they did. Dryden was a scientist first and foremost (and a friend of a friend of mine). Mueller was an engineer and program manager. James Webb was a pilot, a Marine officer, an attorney, an Under Secretary of State, a corporate officer and director of the Bureau of the Budget. He knew his way around Washington and government, as well as the private sector, which is why he was picked for the job. Kennedy needed a seasoned ‘pro’ to get NASA’s agenda through Congress. Jim Webb was that man. And unlike Bolden, he didn’t duck the press.

    I’d stack Webb, Dryden, Seamans, Mueller, Phillips, Low and colleagues against the current leadership at NASA HQ any day. They certainly produced results. General Bolden can’t even produce himself (e.g., in front of a press conference). And Lori Garver has zero background in science, engineering, research & development, production, program management, etc. When you look at the field centers, NASA was very fortunate during the Apollo era to have two Peenemunde veterans (von Braun and Debus) running MSFC and KSC, and a NACA veteran running MSC (Gilruth). We were lucky to have some good people in industry, as well — Lee Atwood, Harrison Storms, Joe Gavin, Tom Kelly, etc. No wonder we managed to go from Freedom 7 to Apollo 11 in eight years.

    William Mellberg

  • Coastal Ron

    MichaelC wrote @ November 12th, 2010 at 6:28 pm

    I am laughing at commercial space right now; the only human destination they have is the white elephant in orbit.

    As far as corporations go, their goal is to succeed as a business. From that standpoint, ULA and SpaceX don’t really care who NASA wants crew delivered to in space – white elephants, pink camels, whatever – if NASA wants to pay them, then that’s fine.

    However, as taxpayers, we should all be concerned about how much it costs the government to accomplish a given task. And that is where commercial crew has the potential to do it better than NASA, and even better than Soyuz.

    ULA, SpaceX and everybody else will continue along fine without flying crew capsules, especially since their business plans have never included them in order to make their revenue goals. But providing crew transportation could be a future revenue source, so of course they are interested in entering the market.

    But if the ISS were to be de-orbited after 2015, then SpaceX and ULA will survive. People may be disappointed, but the corporate entities will be just fine.

  • I am laughing at commercial space right now

    That’s amusing, because we’re laughing at you.

  • Robert Merkel

    I wouldn’t get too excited about this.

    The “bipartisan commission” arbitrarily caps government spending at 22, coming down to 21, percent of GDP.

    This idea is about as popular with liberals as a Palin-Beck Democratic ticket in 2012.

    For good reason – demographic reality says that even with the most heroic efforts in improving healthcare delivery efficiency (cue the million doctor march on DC) and discretionary spending cutbacks (cutting the defence budget to something akin to, I dunno, Luxembourg’s), there is no way the core of existing entitlements can be maintained while capping government expenditure at that level.

    And that same demographic reality suggests that the Republican dream of killing off entitlements isn’t going to happen either.

    Ergo, the plan is a dead duck, and wasn’t really a serious exercise in the first place if it’s going to start with such laughable assumptions.

    And – judging by the fact the “report” was a glorified powerpoint presentation – my guess is that the participants know SFA about the NASA budget and picked “Commercial spaceflight” to cut, based purely on the name.

  • Martijn Meijering

    Mueller was an engineer and program manager.

    And a bureaucrat’s bureaucrat.

  • DCSCA

    @Rand Simberg wrote @ November 12th, 2010 at 8:42 pm
    Chuckleheads all, these space cadets, ‘making all their nowhere plans for nobody’ — with apologies to the Beatles. Meanwhile the American people struggle to make ends meet and could care less about spending/investing billions in space projects for these elite groups, so clearly out of touch with the very down to earth realities facing a country that’s going bust and being left behind by the rest of the world.

  • William Mellberg

    Martijn Meijering wrote:

    (George Mueller was) a bureaucrat’s bureaucrat.

    Mr. Meiijering:

    George Mueller came to NASA from TRW where he had been VP of R&D. He had been closely involved with the design of unmanned interplanetary spacecraft and ballistic missiles. In short, Mueller had a technical background, and his “all-up” approach to flight testing Apollo hardware is what made it possible to achieve President Kennedy’s inspiring goal of landing a man on the Moon “by the end of the decade.”

    Using your terminology, Lori Garver might be described as a politlcal hack’s political hack. Starting with a job on John Glenn’s Senate staff (where she picked up her interest in space), she managed to attach herself in the years that followed to Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. In politics, that’s called an “office seeker” — someone who is looking for a job as a political appointee by “becoming visible” on political campaigns. In the end, her efforts paid off (twice). Garver’s undergraduate work was in political science (which is not REAL science), and most of her professional career has been in public relations. Which is a far cry from the backgrounds of Hugh Dryden, Robert Seamans, George Mueller, et al. (the people who so boldly and competently charted NASA’s course half a century ago).

    And Charles Bolden is a far cry from James Webb. About the only thing they had in common was the Marine Corps. What a pity that Bolden was chosen to be a figurehead rather than a strong leader at a time when America’s space program could really use an experienced hand at the helm. Given General Bolden’s background, he ought to be calling the shots at NASA HQ. But he’s just following orders like the loyal Marine that he is. What a sad way to close out his career — overseeing the demise of NASA’s human spaceflight program.

    William Mellberg

  • Martijn Meijering

    In short, Mueller had a technical background, and his “all-up” approach to flight testing Apollo hardware is what made it possible to achieve President Kennedy’s inspiring goal of landing a man on the Moon “by the end of the decade.”

    The all-up approach is one of the things that bother me most. I prefer the incremental approach advocated by von Braun. Steidle could have been successful if Griffin hadn’t stepped in.

  • I’d stack Webb, Dryden, Seamans, Mueller, Phillips, Low and colleagues against the current leadership at NASA HQ any day.

    That’s a pretty low bar.

    No wonder we managed to go from Freedom 7 to Apollo 11 in eight years.

    That happened because it was politically important, it was a race, and had an essentially unlimited budget. None of those applies today. And the hyperexpensive way we did it created the failed paradigm for how we do space to this day, in terms of actually opening it up, because people really believe that it’s not possible to go to the moon without the equivalent of a Saturn V, though that’s nonsense.

  • William Mellberg

    Martijn Meijering wrote:

    “The all-up approach is one of the things that bother me most. I prefer the incremental approach advocated by von Braun.”

    Mr. Meiijering:

    To meet President Kennedy’s goal of landing a man on the Moon by the end of the decade, there was no time to follow the von Braun approach. Moreover, there was no money. Only 15 Saturn Vs were approved under NASA’s Apollo era budgets. That would have made it impossible to follow the same methodical approach that had been used with the Saturn I. But Mueller wasn’t a fool. First of all, he had confidence (and rightly so) in the von Braun rocket team’s track record. Secondly, he substituted extensive ground tests for flight tests — increasing the reliability of the vehicles once they actually flew. (Which was the missing element that led to the failure of Korolev’s N-1 rockets.)

    The late Konrad Dannenberg was a friend of mine, as was Ernst Stuhlinger. Dannenberg was the Deputy Director for the Saturn V program. Both he and Stuhlinger told me that the von Braun team was “appalled” by the all-up concept when they first heard about it. Nevertheless, von Braun eventually went along with the concept as there wasn’t much choice. The traditional approach would have required the use of four or more Saturn Vs before they even thought about a manned launch. Which would not have left very many vehicles for lunar exploration. And no one knew how many attempts it would take to make the first landing on the Moon. Moreover, testing the Saturn in incremental stages would have consumed more time and money as the mobile launchers would have needed to be modified following that approach. All of which brought von Braun to the same conclusion that Mueller had reached: all-up testing.

    I would suggest you read pages 348 to 351 of Roger Bilstein’s “Stages to Saturn” (NASA SP-4206) which is available online, if I’m not mistaken. The rationale for the all-up approach is discussed in some detail, as is the von Braun team’s eventual embrace of it. In the end … it worked! But it worked because of the remarkable experience (some 30 years’ worth) of the von Braun rocket team and their industry partners (Rocketdyne, Boeing, North American, Douglas, etc).

    I might add that Wernher von Braun was more than just a brilliant manager. He could walk onto the shop floor and talk with any foreman or technician about a myriad of details. He also knew how to operate lathes and other machinery — giving him a feel for production problems. That sort of hands-on experience is what made the “giant leap” from the Redstone to the Saturn V possible. It is also worth noting that before the von Braun team was given the green light to launch America’s first satellite, Ernst Stuhlinger machined some of the parts for Explorer-1 in his own home workshop!

    William Mellberg

  • We know why the all-up approach was chosen in the sixties. We are simply pointing out that it’s not appropriate to a program that is intended to be affordable and sustainable, as opposed to winning a propaganda battle in a Cold War.

  • Martijn Meijering

    I’m not saying Mueller was a fool or that all-up was the wrong approach for Apollo, but we’ve been living with the fall-out ever since. That’s what bothers me about all-up. I don’t know if Mueller chose it because it was the right tool for the job or because that’s the way he preferred to work.

    The late Konrad Dannenberg was a friend of mine, as was Ernst Stuhlinger.

    It must have been a privilege to know such people.

  • Martijn Meijering

    In fact, I recall reading that it was Mueller who insisted the Shuttle would be done in one big leap, with von Braun urging a more incremental approach with one or more interim vehicles. Sadly Mueller’s view prevailed. This suggests the choice was based on personal preference, not deep insight, appropriate though it may have been for Apollo.

  • William Mellberg

    Martijn Meijering wrote:

    “The late Konrad Dannenberg was a friend of mine, as was Ernst Stuhlinger.”

    It must have been a privilege to know such people.

    Martijn, it was, indeed, a privilege, as well as a pleasure, to know them. They were gentlemen, as well as scholars (and pioneers). And both remained active into their 90s. In fact, Dannenberg did some consulting work for Burt Rutan and was at Mojave for SpaceShipOne’s first trip into space. He said it was quite a thrill! Years ago, I literally bumped into Wernher von Braun at the Apollo 17 launch. He eased my embarrassment with a joke. A few years later I met Dr. von Braun more formally at a luncheon in Washington. Sadly, he was already quite ill at the time, and I barely recognized him as the same man. But von Braun was still thinking about the future — and talking about cryogenic fuels (specifically, liquid hydrogen) for jet transports. Tupolev actually tested the concept in a modified Tu-154, and Airbus studied the possibilty of modifying an A300 as a cryogenic fuel testbed. Although the idea didn’t go anywhere, it was typical of Wernher von Braun and his former colleagues to be thinking about such things. They were always looking ahead.

    Martijn Meijering further wrote:

    In fact, I recall reading that it was Mueller who insisted the Shuttle would be done in one big leap, with von Braun urging a more incremental approach with one or more interim vehicles. Sadly Mueller’s view prevailed. This suggests the choice was based on personal preference, not deep insight, appropriate though it may have been for Apollo.

    Martijn, I wouldn’t say Mueller’s view prevailed on the Space Shuttle. I’d say the Nixon Administration’s budget cutters forced NASA to adopt a system that was cheaper to build but more expensive to launch, rather than a system that was more expensive to build but cheaper to launch (i.e., a winged, fly-back booster). The Space Shuttle design was thus compromised from the outset because of budget restraints. Which is the same thing (together with time) that forced NASA to adopt the “all-up” approach for the Saturn V. At least the Apollo 8 astronauts had the benefit of two unmanned Saturn V launches before they flew atop that giant rocket. Young and Crippen were riding the Space Shuttle on its first flight in April 1981. That took guts.

    Of course, the post-Apollo NASA budgets were less ambitious in other ways. Nixon approved (barely) the development of the Space Shuttle. But he didn’t approve a space station. While my previous comments have been critical of the Obama Administration, NASA’s woes go back to the Nixon Administration. Even Lyndon Johnson, one of NASA’s biggest boosters early on, was scaling back his support for America’s space program by the time he left office. And the Bush Administration failed to adequately fund the Constellation Program.

    To use Gus Grissom’s familiar line: “No bucks, no Buck Rogers.”

    Those who think that high-technology can be bought on the cheap don’t understand the subject.

    As Richard Feynman put it in his comments about the Challenger accident: “For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, because Nature cannot be fooled.”

    I fear that lesson still hasn’t been learned.

    William Mellberg

  • William Mellberg

    A question to Martijn Meijering …

    Martijn, would I be correct to assume that you are Dutch? If so, you might be interested to know that I used to work for Fokker Aircraft, helping to sell Friendships and Fellowships here in North America. That, too, was a privilege. At the time, Fokker was merged with VFW of Germany (which is now part of Airbus). ERNO was a division of VFW, and I will never forget going through the Spacelab mockup at ERNO’s Bremen facility in early 1976. Although the United States was not building a space station to go with the Space Shuttle, the European Spacelab module was a great idea! You might even call it the seed from which the ISS grew. I was also excited by ERNO’s role in the Ariane program. Those were interesting times. But I am sorry that Fokker is no longer producing regional airliners. I would much rather sit comfortably in a Fokker 70 than being squeezed into one of today’s RJs. Of course, the fuel burn is lower for an RJ. Which did not help Fokker. However, it was a great company, and I was proud to be a part of it and pleased to work with my Dutch colleagues.

    William Mellberg

  • Those who think that high-technology can be bought on the cheap don’t understand the subject.

    The same could be said of those who think that it can be attained (at least in any affordable way) via massive monolithic government projects.

  • Martijn Meijering

    @William Mellberg:

    Yes, I’m Dutch. When Fokker went under it got a lot of media attention. But it was probably the right thing. Their technology was fine, but they were simply too small. Bits of it survive as part of other companies. Stork (a weird conglomerate that used to have a poultry processing machinery division, of all things) now owns Fokker Technologies. The former Fokker Space division, now Dutch Space is located a stone’s throw away from where I live and is doing well, now a part of EADS. I ride past it on my way to my office and they sometimes have large tarpaulin covered crates marked Vega, they are involved with the European Robotic Arm and the Cygnus solar panels. A close friend of mine works at the former Fokker Control Services, now owned by Moog and they are doing fine too, with activities in both aerospace and automotive sectors. At a freelance contract for a geotechnical software company I met someone who had worked on finite element models for Fokker and was now doing different but valuable work. All in all I would say the Dutch economy is better off with the reassimilated remnants of Fokker than with an artifically propped up Fokker.

  • Martijn Meijering

    Which is the same thing (together with time) that forced NASA to adopt the “all-up” approach for the Saturn V.

    I would argue it wasn’t the same thing. Apollo had very little time and a lot of money. Shuttle may have had much less money, but also less urgency. On the other hand, politicians probably also had less patience and wanted to see something fly early. I think that would have been ideal for incremental development, provided the individual increments were themselves useful, which I usually tacitly assume as part of the definition of incrementality. Note that Ares I-X does not meet that criterion.

  • William Mellberg

    Martijn Meijering wrote:

    “I would argue it wasn’t the same thing. Apollo had very little time and a lot of money. Shuttle may have had much less money, but also less urgency.”

    Martijn, that is essentially true, although the money for Apollo was drying up at the end. Thus, having built the infrastructure to get to the Moon and back — and to do some interesting science while there — the United States abandoned it all after having barely scratched the surface. It would have been nice to have gone ahead with Apollo 18 and Apollo 19 (saving one Saturn V for Skylab) so that one more region of the lunar surface (Tycho or Schroter’s Valley, for example) could have been explored on the near side, and another (Tsiolkovsky) could have been visited on the far side. Of course, it also would have been nice to have moved on with the Apollo Applications Program and to have used a MOLAB to do more extensive exploration. But it was not to be. The political purpose of Apollo was accomplished in July 1969, and there wasn’t the will to continue going to the Moon just for the sake of science. Based on the events of the past year, that ‘will’ still isn’t there. And I seriously question whether it exists for missions to asteroids and to Mars? It’s easy for the current Administration to talk about missions 20 years from now — missions that will be forgotten if no firm commitment is made. That’s been the case with one Administration after another since Apollo. Thus, I suppose we were lucky to see the last three Apollo ‘J’ missions, which added so much to our knowledge of the Moon. Still, we explored only a tiny portion of our nearest neighbor in space. There is so much more to learn beyond low Earth orbit. But without an obvious economic reason to justify the cost, I wonder if humans will ever go into deep space again?

    As for Fokker …

    Most of my friends and former colleagues have now retired, but some went to Airbus and others went to Stork. (I didn’t know about the poultry processing machines!) One went to Heineken’s (a good place to drown one’s sorrows), and a few went to BAe, Bombardier, Embraer and Saab. In the 1980s, Fokker’s fabulous Friendships were overtaken by ATR, de Havilland, Embraer and Saab. The Fellowships and Fokker 100s found competition from BAe, and later from Canadair (Bombardier) and Embraer. Embraer’s E-Jets have enjoyed a monopoly in the marketplace up until now. Their DOCs (Direct Operating Costs) have the edge over the Fokker 70 and Fokker 100. So despite the occasional stories about those aircraft being resurrected, I do not see it happening. But having planned the first (and only) North American Demo Tour for the German-built VFW 614 in October 1975, I do think Embraer’s E-Jets demonstrate that the 614 was about 30 years ahead of its time! Unfortunately, the Fokker 50 was about five years too late. Of course, the cost of designing and developing new airliners is astronomical, and Fokker was too small to “go it alone.” I sometimes wonder if history would have been different had the MDF100 gone ahead (the A320-sized Single Aisle jetliner that Fokker was planning with McDonnell-Douglas)? In any event, Fokker enjoyed a long and proud history, and I was proud to be associated with the firm. I was also pleased to work with some really fine people at Schiphol (where Fokker had its headquarters, as I’m sure you know). The time I spent in Amsterdam was most enjoyable!

    William Mellberg

  • William Mellberg

    Martijn Meijering wrote:

    “All in all I would say the Dutch economy is better off with the reassimilated remnants of Fokker than with an artifically propped up Fokker.”

    Martijn, for the record, Fokker wasn’t artificially propped up by the Dutch government. The loans for the Friendship and Fellowship programs in the 1950s and 1960s were paid back with interest from the sales of those aircraft. But, of course, at the time Fokker collapsed, it would have required the Dutch government to artifically prop up the company to keep it going — which, I assume, is what you were referring to. And given the absence of an all-new aircraft based on new technology, I do not see how Fokker could have kept up with the competition from ATR, BAe, Bombardier and Embraer. Fokker had the regional transport market pretty much to itself for many years. But that all changed in the 1980s.

    I do remember seeing some of the first A300 fuselage sections being built at VFW’s Bremen works in 1975. At the time, the new Airbus looked like a loser as there were very few sales beyond those placed by Air France and Lufthansa. That all changed when Frank Borman (the Apollo 8 commander) bought A300s for Eastern Airlines where he had wound up as president. Borman filled the shoes that Eddie Rickenbacker had once worn (figuratively speaking), and it was Eddie Rickenbacker who bought Fokkers for Eastern Airlines in its early days (after having shot down Fokkers during World War I),

    Incidentally, on this side of the Atlantic, Fokker Aircraft of America was the world’s largest airplane manufacturer in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Fokker F.10s (the American-built version of the famous Fokker F.VIIb-3m Tri-Motor) “sold like hotcakes” (as we say) until the crash of a TWA F.10 in Kansas that killed a famous American football coach (Knute Rockne). That one accident spelled the end of Fokker in America until our office was organized in 1975, However, as you probably know, Fairchild built the Fokker F.27 Friendship under license in this country as the F-27, and later as the slightly longer FH-227. When I met Wernher von Braun in Washington he was working for Fairchild. But by that time Fairchild’s licensing agreement with Fokker had ended (which is why our North American Division was created). I might also mention that what was left of the old Fokker Aircraft of America wound up as North American Aircraft, which built the Saturn S-II stage and the Apollo Command/Service Module. Small world, eh? Fokker has many historical connections that most people aren’t aware of.

    What a pity that Anthony Fokker died so young. The “Flying Dutchman” was a remarkable fellow and certainly left his mark on history!

    William Mellberg

     

  • Martijn Meijering

    But without an obvious economic reason to justify the cost, I wonder if humans will ever go into deep space again?

    In my opinion that is precisely why we should try to reduce the cost of going into LEO and then into deep space. That could provide an economic reason for going and would make deep space accessible without giant budgets. Shuttle was an attempt to do this, but it’s not the sort of the thing that lends itself to a Big Government project, at least not when politicians consider the endeavour unimportant.

  • MichaelC

    In my opinion we have not been into deep space yet. Past the moon is deep space. To stay alive and healthy in deep space will require massive radiation shielding, artificial gravity, and closed loop life support.

    To propel this mass around the solar system will require nuclear energy.

    None of this lends itself to Small private enterprise.

  • William Mellberg

    Martijn,

    Yes, I agree with you that we must lower the cost of sending payloads into LEO and beyond. Unfortunately, because of the compromises that were made (for budgetary reasons) in the Space Shuttle design, NASA’s Space Transportation System failed to fulfill that promise. Moreover, having humans aboard raises the cost of going into space enormously — as became painfully clear following the Challenger and Columbia accidents. The added cost of man-rating vehicles is enormous all the way around. Still, it ought to be possible to decrease the cost of accessing space for humans, and the original Shuttle proposals suggest the correct path. Namely, fly back boosters. In the long term, that is what it will take to bring down the costs.

    But I’m also thinking of a different sort of economic justification for human spaceflight beyond LEO — the sort of thing that made the transcontinental railroads in North America possible (agriculture, mining, etc.). Some people suggest mining metals on asteroids. But how would you get them back to terra firma at a reasonable cost? The weight (mass) alone presents major problems, not only in terms of propulsion requirements, but also in terms of re-entry and landing. (You don’t see many airplanes hauling iron or coal.) Personally, I think Helium-3 (which wuld be transported in a liquid state) offers the greatest potential resource in space, and the Moon is the closest place to mine it. Of course, this is a two-pronged problem:

    1) designing and building the infrastructure to mine and process the He-3 on the Moon for shipment to Earth

    2) designing and proving the fusion technology that would make use of He-3 as a fuel

    “Problem 2″ is probably the greater challenge. But using He-3 for fusion power plants could revolutionize the energy industry. Moreover, it could provide a valuable resource that would make space travel beyond LEO affordable and necessary. Following the miners would be tourists. Imagine honeymooning on the Moon! The 1/6 G environment would be far ‘friendlier’ than Zero-G in LEO. Frankly, I’d LOVE to go there just for the look back at Earth if nothing else. Obviously, such things won’t happen in my lifetime. But I can see today’s students being tomorrow’s pioneers on the Moon … then going onward to explore asteroids and Mars. The Moon still makes sense to me as the first step — especially if it can be determined that mining He-3 would be practical.

    However, as you say, we must bring down the cost of accessing space. And we must get the private sector more involved. But it is also my view that if government agencies (NASA, ESA, etc.) can blaze the trail to the Moon and demonstrate the practicality of utilizing its resources, the private sector will follow. The energy industry, in particular, might be willing to make long-term investments (since they do that sort of thing all the time while exploring for new sources of oil, gas, etc.).

    Which is why I favor a return to the Moon.

    Unfortunately, I do not see space tourism in LEO as an economically viable enterprise for the same reasons that large supersonic transports are not crossing the skies today.

    What we really need — and no one has ever offered — is a coordinated, 25-year and 50-year plan for space that can survive changes in political leadership. It would lay out the goals, the infrastructure and the ‘building block’ approach that would keep humans on course toward the future. But I fear that sort of long-term thinking is impossible as long as politicians around the globe think only about the next election or their own political future (where elections don’t mean anything). Of course, the plan would have to be modified as new technologies become available. However, it would have been possible 50 years ago to chart a course that would have taken us to where we are in space today.

    In short, it is a pity that the “Old Space” and “New Space” proponents can’t look at the Big Picture and find some common ground that would unite them in direction and purpose. I’m as guilty as anyone else of expressing my partisan views. But overall, my REAL interest is in the long-term exploration and settlement of space beyond LEO.

    Wlliam Mellberg

  • Coastal Ron

    William Mellberg wrote @ November 14th, 2010 at 9:03 pm

    Unfortunately, because of the compromises that were made (for budgetary reasons) in the Space Shuttle design, NASA’s Space Transportation System failed to fulfill that promise.

    For a 1st generation system, the Shuttle was probably OK. But 1st generation systems have to morph into 2nd generation fairly quickly if they are to realize the lessons learned, and that was not done with the Shuttle. We are basically flying the same design today that we flew 30 years ago, although there have be some relatively minor improvements. But still the same failure points.

    Another lesson that should have been learned was that there was not the market for space payloads that they had forecasted. That should have made the design for the 2nd generation vehicle smaller, which would have forced them to reevaluate the cost assumptions. Whether the 2nd generation would have happened is unknown, but we would have understood that the Shuttle as proposed was not meeting the goals of reality.

    Lastly, why do you want the government running a transportation monopoly? They may not have intended it to be a monopoly, but how many American companies compete in the crew delivery market? Until that changes, space will be dependent on Congress for funds, in good years and in bad.

  • Martijn Meijering

    @William:

    It seems to me that design compromises forced by budget limitations were not the root cause. The root cause that it is too hard to build an economical RLV with a top down hierarchical organisation, especially one where political interests (pork) are in direct conflict with economics. You need multiple competing commercial entities serving a common market. The role of NASA should be limited to creating that market (demand pull), and perhaps a limited amount of technology push.

    The moon is an obvious target, but any target beyond LEO (and perhaps some in LEO) will do. Wherever you want to go you will need propellant, and propellant is enough to create a market. I’m in favour of incremental steps towards the moon, first to moon Lagrange points and lunar orbit, then to earth Lagrange points and NEOs and only then the moon. Robotic precursor can scout ahead, so there might be robotic moon scouts on the moon while astronauts were still at Lagrange points.

    This only addresses the cost side of the equation, not the benefits. ISRU may one day be economical for use on Earth, but I doubt it. It may be more likely that it will support off-world construction (including LEO) and exploration, but to get there we’ll need cheap lift first. If I were king, I’d structure a space program in such a way as to take advantage of any potential market that came along, but space tourism and what Bigelow is planning to do seem like the most promising economic applications I can think of. Commercial crew taxis will go a long way towards stimulating that potential market.

    In short, it is a pity that the “Old Space” and “New Space” proponents can’t look at the Big Picture and find some common ground that would unite them in direction and purpose.

    I don’t think there is a fundamental compatibility between Old Space and New Space, but there is one between Shuttle-derived and everything else. The SDLV point of view is totally unreasonable, they want a guaranteed role that sucks up most of the money, whereas everybody else merely wants a level playing field. They don’t want to give anything away until they’ve got their SDLV and capsule up and running. It’s like negotiating with terrorists. I used to believe there could be a pragmatic compromise, but I don’t anymore. If there is to be progress, we’ll need to defeat and utterly destroy the Shuttle mafia.

  • William Mellberg

    These are the sort of thoughtful exchanges that gives one something to ponder.

    One mistake NASA made in the 1970s was to assume that everything would be launched aboard the Space Shuttles (i.e., communication satellites, interplanetary probes, etc.). Challenger brought home a stark reality … it made no sense to launch unmanned payloads atop manned rockets when the cost of man-rating the vehicles would always make them more expensive than expendable rockets. Thus, NASA dropped those payloads from its manifest, and the Space Shuttle wound up primarily as a vehicle for transporting space station components. In short, the Space Transportation System did not work out as planned. But then again, neither did the Hindenburg. (I’m not saying that facetiously. The original plan was to have four giant Zeppelins — two of them built and owned by Goodyear — flying the Atlantic in direct competition with oceanliners.)

    I think the missing factor before the Obama Administration rolled out its new space policy in February was a legitimate space conference comprised of government and industry leaders, as well as interested observers, who could present their ideas for a long-term, coordinated space plan. Different sides would have been forced to make the case for their individual ideas. But at least a variety of ideas would have been put on the table.

    I knew one of the individuals who was being considered for the job of NASA Administrator prior to President Obama’s inauguration. He was one of several names the media had put forth. He didn’t get the job (obviously), but I told him he might see that as a good thing some day. “The space program is at a crossroads, and no one is really certain which direction to take. You would have been traveling over a very bumpy road had you been picked.” I’m not sure he saw it that way at the time. However, he might see it that way now!

    I thought of that observation after the House and Senate came up with their “compromise” bill for NASA’s FY2011 budget. I didn’t see any real winners in that outcome. They just kicked the can a little further down the path of uncertainty.

    In any case, thoughtful dialogues always give me something to think about, and I have enjoyed this exchange of ideas. Thank you!

    William Mellberg

  • Challenger brought home a stark reality … it made no sense to launch unmanned payloads atop manned rockets when the cost of man-rating the vehicles would always make them more expensive than expendable rockets.

    Shuttle wasn’t man rated.

  • William Mellberg

    Rand Simberg wrote:

    “Shuttle wasn’t man-rated.”

    Mr. Simberg, I suspect you are arguing semantics.

    Any launch vehicle/spacecraft combination that is used to send humans into space is by definition going to be more costly to operate than unmanned vehicles. Not only is the safety factor involved, but so is the life support hardware — which reduces the useful payload significantly. Every ounce that is used to keep humans alive and comfortable is weight that has been exchanged for payload in an unmanned vehicle. The same applies to airplanes. Which is why the piano bars were removed from the early jumbo jets (replaced by revenue producing seats) and some of the luxury features proposed for the Airbus A380s were never actually installed (replaced by revenue producing seats). In the case of the Space Shuttle, environmental control systems, cockpit displays, seats, food, water, oxygen — all of the necessities of life that are needed to support human beings — greatly reduce the useful payload of the system. But NASA was counting on economies of scale (i.e., one hundred flights per Orbiter and missions every two weeks) to reduce the overall cost by flying reuseable space vehicles. As we know, things didn’t quite work out that way. With the launch schedules and payload manifests greatly reduced, those economies of scale were never realized. Thus, the cost of flying payloads aboard the Space Shuttle greatly exceeded the cost of using expendable rockets. The promise of the Space Shuttle was never fulfilled.

    What we needed in a second-generation shuttle was something along the lines of Europe’s abandoned Hermes program — a winged, reuseable spacecraft which would carry crews and some cargo (supplies), but which wasn’t designed as a flying truck to haul large payloads into space. Those large payloads should have been launched aboard something more akin to the Shuttle-C. I’m also disappointed that none of the so-called “commercial” proposals employ wings, other than Rutan’s sub-orbital SpaceShipTwo. Wings not only lower the cost of returning spacecraft, but they also increase the useful payload that can be returned to the ground — especially when compared to parachutes. This was my main complaint about Orion (which, by necessity, reverted to parachutes and water landings).

    The beauty of the Energia launch vehicle was that it could be flown in both manned and unmanned configurations, although in copying the American Orbiter, the Buran space shuttle was too big. But the large payload canisters that could have been flown in the unmanned Energia-GTK configuration would have provided a lot more lift and would have been useful for sending up large segments of the International Space Station. Sadly, Energia was abandoned. However, I do think Energia-Buran had some advantages which the U.S. Space Shuttle did not enjoy. Among them, without the heavy Space Shuttle Main Engines attached to the Orbiter, Buran’s structural landing weight was significantly lower; hence, it could have returned heavier payloads from space (e.g., making it possible to routinely return failed/failing satellites for repair and reuse).

    In any case, flying humans aboard any spacecraft or launch vehicle automatically drives up the costs. Which, I suspect, is one of the reasons Ariane never developed a manned spacecraft. But had ESA gone ahead with Hermes, there was another advantage the Hermes/Ariane V combination would have had over the Space Shuttle. The spacecraft would have been perched atop the launch vehicle, eliminating the concern about debris strikes during launch and ascent. Eliminating that safety risk would have lowered costs to some extent.

    Which is why the past always provides lessons for the future.

    William Mellberg

  • Mr. Simberg, I suspect you are arguing semantics.

    I am pointing out that people shouldn’t use phrases that they don’t understand the meaning of.

    I’m also disappointed that none of the so-called “commercial” proposals employ wings, other than Rutan’s sub-orbital SpaceShipTwo.

    Dreamchaser does.

  • William Mellberg

    Mr. Simberg:

    I think it is obvious that I was using the term “man-rated” in the historic sense — not the more recent term “human-rated” and the related certification process. Forgive me for being an old fart (and a historian), and I’ll forgive you for being a nitpicker. But bear in mind that nitpicking is not a persuasive form of argument.

    Speaking of history, my friend Fred Matthews (one of the original Mercury flight directors and a veteran Avro Canada flight test engineer) was involved with the man-rating of the Redstone booster. Fred (now 89 years old) recalls kneeling on the floor in Hangar S at Cape Canaveral poring over Redstone blueprints with Wernher von Braun. “I was impressed not only by von Braun’s obvious technical expertise,” Fred once told me, “but also by his personal charisma and his willingness to literally get his hands dirty while trying to solve problems.”

    You can read about “man-rating” the Redstone and Atlas launch vehicles and the Mercury spacecraft in “This New Ocean: A History of Project Mercury” (NASA SP-4201). Chapter 7 is called “Man-Rating the Machines” and section 3 covers the Redstone. (Fred Matthews is mentioned on page 254.) Go to:

    http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/pao/History/SP-4201/ch7-3.htm

    Again, I think it is clear what I meant by my use of the term “man-rated” and its impact on cost and payload. If you tripped over my historic use of the term, then you totally missed my much larger point — namely, that putting humans atop a rocket and inside a spacecraft inherently increases the operational costs and decreases the useful payload of space vehicles. I suppose my perspective on this topic is a carryover from my experience selling jet airliners where every pound of equipment in the passenger cabin was a trade-off between comfort and range/payload. Which, of course, translates into costs. It always costs money to add humans into the transportation equation. (Which is why the more passengers you can cram into an airliner, the lower the seat/mile costs — accounting for the lack of comfort in so many of today’s transports.)

    Of course, I am also mindful that while it was a heck of a lot cheaper for the Soviet Union to send Lunokhod-1 and Lunokhod-2 to the Moon, neither robot achieved in weeks and months what the Apollo 15, 16 and 17 astronauts accomplished in hours and days with their Lunar Rovers. Which is one of the intangible factors that often makes it worth the cost to use humans for exploration rather than robots — a point Harrison Schmitt likes to make when discussing his experiences as a professional geologist on the lunar surface. Needless to say, I agree with Jack. Otherwise, I would favor using the entire NASA budget for unmanned exploration of the Moon and planets, although I do support a healthy program of robotic exploration. (As I’ve probably mentioned previously, my Father was responsible for the design and development of the cameras used aboard the Surveyor lunar landers, and he was also involved with the Pioneer-Venus and Galileo/Jupiter probes. I held the Surveyor III camera in my hands both before it went to the Moon, and after Conrad and Bean brought it back to Earth. Quite a treat!)

    As for Dreamchaser … thanks for the reminder.

    William Mellberg

  • William Mellberg

    MichaelC wrote:

    “In my opinion we have not been into deep space yet. Past the moon is deep space. To stay alive and healthy in deep space will require massive radiation shielding, artificial gravity, and closed loop life support. To propel this mass around the solar system will require nuclear energy. None of this lends itself to Small private enterprise.”

    Michael, I could not agree with you more! Which is why I support going back to the Moon (semi-deep space) before heading to Mars. It’s a good place to develop some of the hardware, systems and operational experience that would be required for expeditions to Mars and elsewhere. Incidentally, Ernst Stuhlinger, who had a keen interest in manned voyages to Mars, wrote a paper many years ago in which he mentioned Helium-3 as the perfect fuel for a nuclear-powered interplanetary spacecraft. Which is another reason, in my view, to return to the Moon (i.e., that’s where we’ll get the He-3). In any case, your point is very well taken. Small private enterprise is fine for would-be space tourists and daydreamers. But it’s going to take government agencies and big industrial enterprises to send humans around the Solar System. I won’t see it my lifetime. I doubt if any of us will — unless there are some 10-year olds reading this thread. However, it will happen. After all, Jules Verne’s depiction of the first journey to the Moon was a remarkably accurate account of the Apollo 8 mission 100 years later.

    WIlliam Mellberg

  • Again, I think it is clear what I meant by my use of the term “man-rated” and its impact on cost and payload. If you tripped over my historic use of the term, then you totally missed my much larger point — namely, that putting humans atop a rocket and inside a spacecraft inherently increases the operational costs and decreases the useful payload of space vehicles.

    That’s a completely separate issue from human rating, which is a meaningless phrase in the twenty-first century.

  • William Mellberg

    Mr. Simberg:

    Again, you seem to totally miss my point. My background is in transportation economics (airline operations), and the same rules generally apply whether one is dealing with trains, planes, automobiles, buses, trucks, oceanliners, spacecraft, etc. Which is why Concorde was impractical, why we don’t have any supersonic transports carrying passengers today, and why “space tourism” will be economically impractical for decades to come. Who can afford the price of a ticket? And why should the taxpayers subsidize a rich, elite few (as British and French taxpayers did with Concorde) to send “commercial” spacecraft into low Earth orbit?

    Frankly, I don’t understand why you have made such a fuss about my use of the term “man-rated” — other than to try and disparage my professional background or to simply be a contrarian. There seems to be no shortage of contrarians in these forums and in the political arena, in general, these days. But nitpicking and raising irrelevant points does nothing to further one’s argument or to make a persuasive case. Sarcastic remarks are simply a turn off. They do not inform or inspire.

    Mr. Simberg, you’ve repeatedly made the point that “NASA needs commercial space more than commercial space needs NASA.” But you certainly haven’t convinced me that your assertion is true. It seems to me you have it totally backwards. Without NASA, there is no need for commercial space (human spaceflight, that is) as there is no sustainable market for sending people into space. No private sector enterprise can afford the tremendous cost of designing, developing and operating manned spacecraft simply for space tourism. Sir Richard Branson might prove me wrong. And I hope he does. But he’s going to have to find an awful lot of very wealthy people willing to risk their lives and spend their money for a quick and dangerous trip to 60 miles before Virgin Galactic will ever turn a profit or get a return on its investment. I wonder what the break-even point will be in terms of the passenger totals that will be required to pay for the system? Given the small number of available seats, I don’t see Branson ever breaking even unless he charges astronomical prices for tickets. Which, of course, greatly reduces the pool of available passengers.

    It seems to me that many “commercial” space advocates are ignoring these basic facts of economic reality. I also have the impression that many of the strongest, most vocal proponents of “commercial” space are people who are in a position to make some short-term money in consulting, public relations, etc. (i.e., they have a personal stake in the current debate). But few of them seem to have any background in the commercial transportation field (in particular, the airline industry). Just as the early airlines learned from the operational experience of the railways, “commercial” space advocates ought to be taking lessons from the operational experience of the airlines. This is where Sir Richard Branson DOES have an edge and why he just might prove me wrong. But many a “start-up” airline has failed over the years. In fact, MOST of them have failed because they did not take into account market and economic reality. There are exceptions, of course. Southwest Airlines has done very well (to put it mildly). I remember calling on Herb Kelleher when Southwest was still a tiny intrastate carrier flying a handful of 737s across Texas. The secret to Southwest’s long-term success was deregulation, low fares and high commonality of equipment (which decreases maintenance costs, etc.). I also remember talking with a young Fred Smith when he was looking to replace his little package carrier’s Falcon jets with Fokker F.28 Fellowships. (He wound up going straight to 727s instead.) Smith’s background in the bus business served him well when he launched Federal Express. But most start-up airlines have failed, losing millions along the way.

    I wonder how long the “commercial” space advocates think the International Space Station is going to remain operational? The core modules are already a decade old. As I recall, Mir cosmonauts were spending more time repairing hardware than doing experiments as that space station reached the 10-year mark. What makes people think the ISS will perform flawlessly for another decade just because President Obama has decided to fund it through 2020? And where will the market for “commercial” space be after the ISS has finally been deorbited? Space Hiltons?

    I’m certainly not convinced that NASA needs commercial space more than commercial space needs NASA. All NASA needs is a working launch vehicle and spacecraft to access the ISS for the duration. That means a contractor for the launch vehicle and a contractor for the spacecraft. Lockheed Martin was already working on Orion, and there were (are) existing alternatives to Ares I. How do multiple “commercial” vehicles get the job done any cheaper, better, quicker or safer?

    I think about the competition between the Lockheed L-1011 and the McDonnell Douglas DC-10. Both aircraft were designed for the same limited market. And dividing that limited market meant that both companies lost money on those programs. A similar competition might have taken place in Europe when British Aircraft Corporation wanted to challenge the Airbus A300 with their own BAC Three-Eleven. In the end, wiser minds prevailed. The European aircraft industry pooled its resources to create Airbus and to concentrate on a single design. The results speak for themselves.

    Given the high cost of developing space hardware and the extremely limited market, I think too many “commercial” space advocates are putting their dreams ahead of economic reality.

    That’s just my opinion based on my professional background, and I post my thoughts here for what their worth.

    Others can have their own opinions based on their own professional experience or visions.

    But I try to use persuasive arguments rather than insults to make my points. I wouldn’t have impressed too many airline presidents by insulting them while helping to sell multi-million dollar jet airliners in my early career. Mr. Simberg, your sarcastic comments do nothing to persuade me. However, they seem to be par for the course on most of these threads. You seem to be looking for an Amen Chorus rather than an intelligent exchange of ideas. But, of course, we live in an increasingly uncivil society (as your remarks too often demonstrate). Rather than resorting to pomposity and insults whenever anyone disagrees with you, may I suggest you try a few polite and persuasive arguments (with a touch of humor and humility thrown in for good measure)? With that novel approach (“novel” for today’s culture), you might actually win a few converts rather than insulting intelligent people who hold opposing points of view. I have no problem with different perspectives. But I don’t take kindly to insults. And no one, sir, has a monopoly on knowledge or good ideas.

    President Reagan kept a sign on his desk that served him well through the years: “There is no limit to what a man can achieve if he doesn’t care who gets the credit for it.”

    William Mellberg

  • Who can afford the price of a ticket?

    Enough people to make it a viable industry. Branson already has enough deposits to close his business case.

    And why should the taxpayers subsidize a rich, elite few (as British and French taxpayers did with Concorde) to send “commercial” spacecraft into low Earth orbit?

    Because it will save the taxpayers money by making space access cheaper for everyone, including the government. And there is no “subsidization” involved, and more than Lockheed Martin is “subsidized” when they perform a contract to build a space capsule for NASA. Purchasing services from a commercial provider is not a “subsidy.”

    Frankly, I don’t understand why you have made such a fuss about my use of the term “man-rated” — other than to try and disparage my professional background or to simply be a contrarian.

    I do so because it’s the most misleading and useless (and damaging) phrase in this industry, and very few people who use it even know what it means, and so I point it out whenever anyone uses it. Don’t take it so personally.

    How do multiple “commercial” vehicles get the job done any cheaper, better, quicker or safer?

    If you look at the cost projections, they do. Orion/Ares was going to cost tens of billions, by NASA’s own estimates, to become operational by 2017, whereas Falcon 9/Dragon will have first flight next month, and the upper estimate on cost to get it safe to fly crew is a billion and three years. Boeing can develop CST for a billion or so in the same amount of time, and launch it on an existing vehicle. And SpaceX/Boeing/ULA can reduce operations cost by spreading their lower development costs and fixed annual cost over a larger user base (e.g., customers for Bigelow’s facilities), whereas no one will use Ares/Orion except NASA, resulting in a cost of billions per flight (and a lot more if one were to properly amortize the tens of billions of development costs).

    So it doesn’t seem all that hard to understand to me.

  • William Mellberg

    P.S. I’m reminded of Bill Nye’s recent comments to Politico.com suggesting (in so many words) that Neil Armstrong, Jim Lovell, Gene Cernan and their former Apollo colleagues (Jack Schmitt, Walt Cunningham, et al.) are senile and out of touch with the 21st Century. That, supposedly, is why they “don’t get” President Obama’s new space policy.

    First of all, Mr. Nye’s comments were plain rude. Secondly, they were totally inappropriate given his new position. (He is now the Executive Director of The Planetary Society; not the host of a childrens television program or a stand-up comic.) Third, I think Armstrong, Lovell and Cernan have forgotten more about aerospace than Bill Nye (or I) will ever know. Moreover, they haven’t been sitting in rocking chairs for the past 40 years.

    Needless to say, Nye’s remarks did not persuade those veteran astronauts, nor did he leave a very good impression of himself in their minds. But again, such behavior seems to be par for the course these days. A sad commentary on the 21st Century, I’m afraid. Civility and good manners are apparently “so 20th Century.”

  • William Mellberg

    Mr. Simberg:

    I seriously doubt if Branson has enough deposits to pay for the design, development and operation of SpaceShipTwo — no matter the hype. Moreover, one “accident” and those deposits are history. Whatever SpaceX or anyone else charges to send people into space, the market simply isn’t big enough to earn a profit on such a costly and dangerous enterprise (which goes back to my point about the astronomical cost of adding humans into spaceflight).

    One might draw a parallel to mass transit. Mass transit is plagued by the problem that you have two rush hours that are twelve hours apart. Operating buses, light rail or commuter rail over that time span is cost prohibitive — especially if the public is to be served by schedules throughout the day. Which is why mass transit is run (funded) by government agencies, rather than commercial operators. It simply doesn’t pay.

    Given the nature of human spaceflight, it, too, will need to be funded by government agencies for a long time to come … in my opinion. How many customers will Bigelow have? I take nothing away from Bigelow’s vision. Nor Musk’s. But I just don’t see a worldwide demand (or, more importantly, a NEED) for human spaceflight that makes “commercial” space economically viable. Not any time soon, at least.

    William Mellberg

  • I just don’t see a worldwide demand (or, more importantly, a NEED) for human spaceflight that makes “commercial” space economically viable. Not any time soon, at least.

    Well, the people who have actually done market research do.

    I agree that Bill Nye was rude. But I also agree that Apollo veterans don’t necessarily understand the politics and fiscal realities of modern space projects. This nostalgia for Apollo continues to hold us back from progress going forward.

  • MichaelC

    “Ernst Stuhlinger, who had a keen interest in manned voyages to Mars, wrote a paper many years ago in which he mentioned Helium-3 as the perfect fuel for a nuclear-powered interplanetary spacecraft.”

    Yes William, I hold out some hope for Helium 3/Deuterium fusion. However, my view of many technologies being promoted is very critical. The He3-De fusion is, from what I have read, much easier to initiate than the more conventional reactions and can produce a great deal of clean electrical energy without the extreme radiation and thermal byproducts. In my opinion most fusion research has been a cover for weapons research- the only place fusion will ever work efficiently is in a star or in a bomb. But He3 might be the exception. I have read He3 (and water) on the moon might not be as wonderfully easy to utilize as proponents argue.

    Another technology that deserves mention is anti-matter catalyzed fusion- where a tiny amount of anti-matter is used to ignite a fusion reaction. The price of anti-matter is going down and will continue to do so making this a promising field of research.

    And beam propulsion, where an antennae field transmits energy to a launch vehicle as a first stage and space solar power stations transmit as the second stage. With airline type launch vehicles taking off every day space colonization would become not only practical, but profitable. But this would take trillions in infrastructure development.

    I take a very dim view of using 25 ton launchers and fuel depots as the next step in space exploration. I believe many of the commercial space advertising powerpoints are close to fraudulent in the information they are presenting. Mike Griffin is criticized for many things but personally I find three of his standard talking points to be accurate.

    1. 150 ton payloads are a minimum requirement for supporting human spaceflight Beyond Earth Orbit.
    2. Separating the crew and cargo functions in medium and heavy lift vehicles.
    3. Using solid fuel rockets as the main source of thrust in the first stage.

    As for colonization not happening in our lifetime, I have to disagree with you on that. Using Nuclear Pulse Propulsion, we are completely capable of building true space ships and exploring the solar system any time we choose to. Also the way technology is doubling itself any predictions like “not in our lifetime” are not worth betting on.

    It is a pleasure corresponding with you William. Thank you.

  • William Mellberg

    MichaelC wrote:

    “As for colonization not happening in our lifetime, I have to disagree with you on that. Using Nuclear Pulse Propulsion, we are completely capable of building true space ships and exploring the solar system any time we choose to. Also the way technology is doubling itself any predictions like ‘not in our lifetime’ are not worth betting on. It is a pleasure corresponding with you William. Thank you.”

    Michael,

    You’ve got a good point there! I suppose I said “not in or lifetime” based on the record of the past 50 years. But you’re right about advances in technology, and I hope to be proven wrong in this instance. As for He-3, one of the bigger problems at the lunar end of the infrastructure would be the volume of regolith that would have to be processed to extract it. Needless to say, it would be a costly and difficult process given the harsh environement. But most of the work would be done robotically. At this end, it’s a matter of developing the fusion technology. Fusing He-3 with itself would produce no radioactive waste, but would be more difficult than fusing He-3 with Deuterium. In either case, I believe the long-term prospects for He-3 fusion could have an enormous impact on the world’s energy supply and the global economy. He-3 could be our dominant energy source for hundreds of years — replacing fossil fuels. As I’ve mentioned previously, it holds out the promise of being a resource that would put space exploration and settlement on firm economic foundations — providing the sort of return on investments that made transcontinental railroads a paying proposition. They, in turn, opened the West to settlement. But for the time being, government will have to do the trailblazing (proving the viability of the concept) before the private sector moves in to capitalize on He-3 and fusion energy production.

    In any case, I certainly appreciate your insights, and I agree that nuclear propulsion systems would totally change the Big Picture. To the extent that “ObamaSpace” supports that sort of R&D, I support ObamaSpace.

    William Mellberg

  • William Mellberg

    Rand Simberg wrote:

    “Well, the people who have actually done market research do.”

    Mr. Simberg, I’ve read scores of market studies for start-up airlines that were totally flawed because of the assumptions they made. In fact, we (Fokker Aircraft) turned away some potential buyers because their market research was so flawed, and we didn’t want our aircraft being blamed for the failures had those ill-fated carriers gotten off the ground. You must also know that numbers can be massaged and conclusions can be made to fit. The bottomline is that there is a difference between ‘demand’ and ‘need’ in the marketplace. I see very limited demand for commercial human spaceflight … and even less need.

    “I agree that Bill Nye was rude. But I also agree [with Nye] that Apollo veterans don’t necessarily understand the politics and fiscal realities of modern space projects.”

    I can assure you that they do … at least the gentlemen who took the most public stands during the past year. They understand the politics, the engineering, the economics and all the other devils in all the othe details. Go back and read the statements Armstrong and Cernan made on Capitol Hill this year. And may I remind you that Jack Schmitt was a United States Senator. He is keenly aware of the politics, as made clear by his written commentaries, as well as his recent speeches. Moreover, up until two years ago, Dr. Schmitt was Chair of the NASA Advisory Council. Neil Armstrong served on the Council with him. As for the others, their focus is not nostalgia for the past. It’s their vision for the future … and picking up the ball where the Nixon Administration dropped it.

    I am pleased that you agree about Bill Nye’s rude remarks. Sadly, I haven’t heard him apologize for his gaffe. The Number One Rule for association executives is to “offend no important people.” Perhaps Nye should have stuck with his childrens shows, although I’ve always felt Don Herbert (“Mr. Wizard”) did a much better job of explaining science to kids. He never talked down to them. Of course, my personal favorite was “Mr. Science” (the Mr. Wizard spoofs which aired on radio from the legendary team of Bob & Ray).

    William Mellberg

  • MichaelC

    ” I agree that nuclear propulsion systems would totally change the Big Picture. To the extent that “ObamaSpace” supports that sort of R&D, I support ObamaSpace.”

    Ditto. Chemical propulsion is worthless for interplanetary flight due to the weight of shielding required to protect the crew from cosmic heavy nuclei- a fact conveniently ignored and sometimes denied by the commercial space fans.

  • The bottomline is that there is a difference between ‘demand’ and ‘need’ in the marketplace. I see very limited demand for commercial human spaceflight … and even less need.

    Again, with all due respect, I wonder why I should care what you “see,” when people with a lot at financial stake in it “see” something quite different.

    I can assure you that they do … at least the gentlemen who took the most public stands during the past year. They understand the politics, the engineering, the economics and all the other devils in all the othe details. Go back and read the statements Armstrong and Cernan made on Capitol Hill this year.

    I did. Sadly, they seem to be completely clueless about the new policy. They were used by those who stand to gain from the status quo (e.g., ATK).

  • William Mellberg

    Rand Simberg wrote:

    “Again, with all due respect, I wonder why I should care what you see, when people with a lot at financial stake in it see something quite different.”

    Mr. Simberg, I suppose the shortest answer to your question is that the ‘commercial’ space people are trying to reach into my pocket to pay for their projects. So I have a financial stake in their market analyses, and I find them flawed. I cannot help but remember the glowing projections for the Space Transportation System when it was first being ‘sold’ to the American public. It would be just like an airline operation: 100 flights per Orbiter, two week turnarounds, greatly reduced costs, etc., etc., etc. Human spaceflight would become routine and available to everyone (including scientists, corporate researchers, teachers, journalists, and so on). Although I believe the Space Shuttle was a tremendous technological achievement, it did not fulfill the promises and projections that were made back then. Not even close.

    I also recall the marketing studies that were done for Concorde as my former boss was closely involved with BAC’s sales effort. I remember the deposits made by sixteen international airlines and all of the charts and graphs showing proposed Concorde routes around the world and projected SST boardings (ticket sales). None of which came to pass. Despite the lofty promises of supersonic flight shrinking the globe and revolutionizing air travel … it didn’t happen. And British and French taxpayers were left holding the bill for those beautiful white elephants. Sure, a few wealthy people made good use of Concorde across the North Atlantic for quite a few years. But the aircraft was beyond the reach of average people, and its economics were TOTALLY impractical.

    In addition, I’m reminded that everything didn’t pan out quite as promised for Arianespace. As successful as Arianespace has been technically, the story is a bit different financially. Arianespace isn’t quite as “commercial” as some would suggest.

    In short, those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. And, as Richard Feynman pointed out, Nature isn’t fooled by slick public relations. From my perspective, the ‘commercial’ space proponents are looking through the same rose-colored lenses that others have worn in the past. That’s just my opinion, mind you. But I have every much right to express my opinions here as you have to express yours. And I have every right to base my opinions on my own experience in the aerospace industry. Isn’t that what this forum is all about … a healthy exchange of ideas and opinions?

    “Sadly, they [Armstrong and Cernan] seem to be completely clueless about the new policy. They were used by those who stand to gain from the status quo (e.g., ATK).”

    Mr. SImberg, Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan weren’t being “used” by anyone. They were expressing their own opinions and concerns based upon lifetimes of experience and achievement in the real world of aerospace hardware and development. But your suggestion does bring up an interesting point …

    If you look at the list of former astronauts (mostly Space Shuttle veterans) who endorse ObamaSpace, the majority have a personal stake in ‘commercial’ space — serving as executives or consultants to those enterprises (i.e., they have a financial stake in taxpayer dollars being directed toward those firms).

    Such is not the case for Armstrong, Lovell, Cernan, Schmitt and the veteran astronauts who oppose ObamaSpace, although Harrison Schmitt is quick to point out in his speeches and interviews that he sits on the board of Orbital Sciences Corp. and served as a Republican in the United States Senate. But their motivation is not personal financial gain. Rather, their motivation is a sincere desire to see human exploration of the Solar System carry on where they left off — starting with a return to the Moon. Schmitt, in particular, has been making the case for Helium-3, and Armstrong supports him in that effort (e.g., writing the foreword to Schmitt’s book, Return to the Moon). Having actually left LEO and walked on another world, Armstrong, Cernan and Schmitt share a perspective that is quite unique. I find it sad that so many people from today’s generation are so quick to suggest that the aging Apollo veterans (other than Buzz Aldrin and Rusty Schweickart) are senile or out of touch with the times, rather than heeding their wisdom and advice. At least in Russia, pioneers like Boris Chertok (Sergei Korolev’s former deputy) are still respected, and their experience is still utilized. But in America’s youth-oriented culture, there is a mistaken notion that seasoned citizens ought to be sent off to retirement communities and forgotten.

    Personally, I greatly admire Mr. Armstrong and Capt. Cernan for taking the time to make their voices heard … and for sharing their invaluable experience and expertise. But it is a sign of the times that others choose to ignore their concerns and to disparage their reputations.

    William Mellberg

  • Mr. Simberg, I suppose the shortest answer to your question is that the ‘commercial’ space people are trying to reach into my pocket to pay for their projects.

    They’re “reaching into your pocket” in the near term to reduce the degree to which NASA will have to reach into your pocket later. As I said, NASA needs them more than they need NASA.

    As for Armstrong, Lovell, Cernan, et al, all they demonstrated was that they didn’t understand the new policy, but were encouraged to testify by others whose pork was on the line. I was embarrassed for them.

  • William Mellberg

    Rand Simberg wrote:

    “They’re ‘reaching into your pocket’ in the near term to reduce the degree to which NASA will have to reach into your pocket later. As I said, NASA needs them more than they need NASA.”

    Mr. Simberg, I am reminded of the people who told us that the FAA (i.e., the American taxpayer) needed to underwrite the development of the Boeing 2707 because the SST was going to benefit millions of air travelers in the future. Years ago, before I worked in the air transport industry and learned about the economics of jet aircraft, I believed the hype. Supersonic transports were the shape of the future. Or so I thought. But after Congress pulled the plug on SST subsidies, the 2707 never left the ground. Boeing understood the economics of jet aircraft, and the company wisely got out of the SST business. You see, Boeing needed the FAA more than the FAA needed Boeing. Without taxpayer dollars, Boeing wasn’t willing to risk their own money on the SST (as they did on the 707 and 747).

    “As for Armstrong, Lovell, Cernan, et al, all they demonstrated was that they didn’t understand the new policy, but were encouraged to testify by others whose pork was on the line. I was embarrassed for them.”

    It’s an age old tactic to kill (or disparage) the messenger when one doesn’t like the message.

    Personally, I feel a lot better when I see gray-haired captains sitting in the left-hand seat whenever I board an airliner — gray-haired guys like Captain Sullenberger whose many years of experience helped put that Airbus A320 into the Hudson River without the loss of a single life.

    That’s why when gray-haired guys like Armstrong, Lovell and Cernan speak … I listen.

    Incidentally, what makes you think they were encouraged to testify by others whose pork was on the line? Do you know them personally?

    William Mellberg

  • Mr. Simberg, I am reminded of the people who told us that the FAA (i.e., the American taxpayer) needed to underwrite the development of the Boeing 2707 because the SST was going to benefit millions of air travelers in the future.

    That’s different. My point is that the expenditure of taxpayer dollars on commercial will save NASA money. That it also benefits non-NASA customers is gravy. And yes, Boeing was not going to develop an SST on its own, but SpaceX has already developed Dragon on its own — all it needs is a launch abort system. It will develop it on its own if it has to, just as it has with the Falcon and Dragon, but it will take longer if it doesn’t get NASA funding. So it’s apples and oranges.

    It’s an age old tactic to kill (or disparage) the messenger when one doesn’t like the message.

    Whether I like the message or not is irrelevant. The message was nonsense, which is why it was sad to see it coming from people I admired.

    Personally, I feel a lot better when I see gray-haired captains sitting in the left-hand seat whenever I board an airliner

    More apples and oranges. I wouldn’t be that thrilled to see a gray-haired captain of my airliner if he hadn’t flown in decades, and forgot to drop flaps before throttling up. That was the equivalent of what Cernan did verbally.

  • William Mellberg

    Mr. Simberg, your comment in this post about Gene Cernan is an opinion, and I’m sure he’s heard worse over the years. But your previous remark about Armstrong, Lovell and Cernan testifying (in effect) for “others whose pork was on the line” borders on defamation. Being public figures, they’re subject to more criticism than the rest of us mere mortals. Still, you should be careful when making such accusations. Professor Armstrong is perfectly capable of speaking for himself — even if his appearances are relatively rare.

    Actually, that’s not quite true. Neil Armstrong has remained very active and very engaged in aerospace activities. He simply avoids publicity as he goes about his serious life’s work. Most recently, he served on the NASA Advisory Council which was chaired by Harrison Schmitt of Apollo 17 fame. (BTW, Dr. Schmitt is still an adjunct professor of engineering at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.) While serving on the Council, Armstrong spent considerable time visiting NASA field centers and industry sites as part of the planning for NASA’s future (pre-Garver). It is simply wrong to suggest (as both you and Bill Nye have done) that Armstrong is ‘out of it’ and unfamiliar with current events. It is more accurate to say that he strongly disagrees with your points of view, based upon his long career in aerospace engineering. I might add that Jimmy Doolittle was an aerospace consultant well into his 90s (long after he flew his B-25 off the deck of the USS Hornet). And Konrad Dannenberg (one of the original von Braun rocket team members) served as a consultant to Burt Rutan on SpaceShipOne when he was in his 90s. A lifetime of experience is an invaluable asset. Don’t be so quick to discount it or to discredit people because of their advanced years.

    As for Gene Cernan …

    He remains active in aerospace consulting and still flies his own aircraft (remembering to drop his flaps when needed). Cernan is an active member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, the Association of Naval Aviation, the American Space Institute, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the American Astronautical Society, and the Explorers Club. He is also a member of the President’s Engineering Committee at Purdue University, his alma mater (and Armstrong’s).

    Again, I think you simply didn’t like what Captain Cernan said on Capitol Hill because he expressed the same reservations about “commercial” space that I have.

    Apparently quite a few members of Congress share those reservations. I didn’t see overwhelming support for ObamaSpace, and there is likely to be even less support for “commercial” space given the current political situation in the new Congress.

    Finally, despite all of my previous remarks, I should make it clear that I have great admiration for Elon Musk and what he and his SpaceX team have already accomplished. But I don’t think they’re going to get the United States out of low Earth orbit any quicker, cheaper or safer than NASA would have done with the Constellation Program (had it been funded appropriately). My interest is in manned exploration of the Moon and beyond … not LEO space tourism or a short-term project to service the age-limited International Space Station. I think Armstrong, Lovell and Cernan share my perspective. (Or, more accurately, I share THEIR perspective.) And that is why they testified against the Obama Administration’s new space policy. But it’s a lot easier to suggest that they’re senile old men whose time has passed rather than arguing against their specific points on Capitol Hill.

    William Mellberg

  • William Mellberg

    And another ‘P.S.’ …

    I really do admire Elon Musk and Burt Rutan and Sir Richard Branson and all of the others who are trying to extend commercial space into the realm of human spaceflight. But I am not in favor of using NASA’s limited budgets to support “commercial” space at the expense of space exploration beyond low Earth orbit. The Space Shuttle and the International Space Station have gobbled up vast amounts of NASA dollars during the past 30+ years — keeping us stuck in LEO. That is why I supported Constellation (or something like it) because I want to see humans go back to the Moon and on to Mars and a few asteroids along the way. Where is the inspiration in going around and around and around the Earth over and over and over again? Can the average person tell us what purpose the ISS has served or what scientific return has come from it? Frankly, I sometimes think Skylab produced more science in one year than the ISS has produced in a decade. And I often think what a pity it was that the back-up Skylab wound up in the Smithsonian rather than in LEO. In any case, I don’t discount what Musk and others have achieved, although I do subscribe to Gene Cernan’s remark that “they don’t know what they don’t know.” More power to SpaceX and the others … using their own money! But for heavens’ sake … let’s get our astronauts off the LEO merry-go-round and back into the realm of explorers. THAT is what Armstrong, Lovell and Cernan were talking about. And so am I.

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>