Congress, NASA

Mollohan: “don’t know” if Congress will approve an appropriations bill

In an accepting an award from the Space Transportation Association during a Capitol Hill event this morning, Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV), the outgoing chairman of the Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, immediately addressed the one issue on everyone’s minds about NASA’s funding for the coming year. “I don’t know, I don’t think anybody else knows” if the lame-duck Congress will pass an omnibus appropriations bill, rolling up the current separate appropriations bills, or instead extend a continuing resolution (CR), perhaps for the entire fiscal year. “It could go either way.”

Mollohan had a clear preference for an omnibus that would incorporate “all the hard work” the appropriations committee’s staff had put into the legislation so far. “My intellect tells me that we should get an omnibus,” he said, adding that the outcome may depend on what will happen in the Senate, where the endorsement of a ban on earmarks by minority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) “was not a good omen.”

“A CR would be bad for NASA,” he said, because they generally don’t support the start of new activities. He did acknowledge that a CR could permit “anomalies” that would support new programs, but he said even in such a case “the new direction enacted in the authorization bill is likely to be delayed as well.” (He added that the NASA authorization bill that was signed into law last month “was one of this Congress’s real legislative achievements.”)

Mollohan praised a number of NASA programs developed during his tenure in Congress, from the Earth Observing System to the International Space Station to the Hubble Space Telescope and Mars Exploration Rovers. However, he did warn the agency and its supporters about a mismatch between missions and resources. “We’re still trying to do too much with too little. The accountants and the visionaries are still arm wrestling,” he said. “The cost of developing and launching satellites has gotten so high that we’re now somewhat dangerously relying on what you might call ‘design life plus,’” a reference to stretching out the lifetimes of operational satellites well beyond their design life because of delayed replacements. He also cautioned against being “much too dependent on the Russians” for access to the ISS.

Turning to exploration, Mollohan said that “we need to break out of low Earth orbit.” During the budget debate of the last year, he said, “one theme emerged: the Congress, reflecting the aspirations of the American people, want an aggressive human exploration program.” He said he found similar interest in both entrepreneurial and established space companies he’s met with. “These aspirations, and this enthusiasm, must be given an outlet through government and commercial space activities.”

Later, though, in the Q&A period after his speech, Mollohan acknowledged the difficulty in crafting a strong new direction for NASA. “NASA policy is very much developed by committee,” he said. “There’s no defining voice that says, ‘This is the way it’s going to be.’ That’s evident from how this exploration issue has been playing out this year.” While the administration wanted to go in one direction, some in Congress resisted, “so we end up with this indecision; an unstable policy area that still is undefined.”

At the end of the session, Mollohan praised his likely successor as chair of the CJS subcommittee, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), the current ranking member. “Frank Wolf is just wonderful to work with,” he said. “I hope he gets this committee. He’s very appropriate for this job.”

48 comments to Mollohan: “don’t know” if Congress will approve an appropriations bill

  • Robert G. Oler

    http://www.hudson-ny.org/1667/nasa-gift-to-russia

    the latest in the Cx folks trying to claim that they really won. Reading it is like Lee trying to claim he won at Gettysburg.

    Robert G. Oler

  • John Malkin

    By killing the Moon program — and its associated rockets, capsules and other systems — in favor of a vague and ill-defined plan that may or may not include a trip to an asteroid sometime around 2025, the administration has put NASA in an impossible situation.

    NASA was already in an impossible sitution thanks to Congress underfunding an expensive, over price program doomed for failure.

  • amightywind

    No there won’t be an $1T omnibus spending bill. 21 democrat Senators running in 2012 will not vote for it without GOP support, which they surely will not have. Same goes for the START treaty. Same goes for the Obama tax increases.

    Mollohan’s assessment is fairly accurate. New strong, credible leadership at NASA is one way out of the malaise. Some consensus in congress about HSF vs ISS would help. We simply cannot afford both robust HSF and subsidizing Russia, Europe, and Japan in space.

  • John Malkin

    So assume Cx is funded at 2010 levels. What happens to the gap? Does Congress think it will get shorter by maintaining the same spending levels? I must have missed that Cx had surplus funding. Lets do Ares I development and start HL in 2011… I’m sure that will be successful (sarcastic). It’s just sad.

  • CharlesHouston

    Taylor Dinerman is a infamous fan of the US military in good days and in bad, he never met a military space program that he did not like. He has advocated odd ideas like storing replacement military satellites in deep space orbits, etc. If you go to that magazine site and contribute any posts that question the ideas presented your post will never be accepted. Taylor Dinerman is hardly a Constellation person – he must be a gardening writer in New York, from the lack of reality of his writing.

    In fact he has a good bit in common with Mr Oler.

    Of course Mr Oler is correct when he says that Constellation was killed, it is dead!! Orion is dead, the fact that the same people are working on the “Multi Purpose Whatever You Call It”, and the fact that it looks supiciously like the Orion is merely a coincidence.

    And Ares is deader!! the fact that the Ares people are working on the HEFT or whatever the heavy lift thing is must be another strange coincidence.

    All the money in the recently approved authorization bill is obviously for some other, not connected, program.

  • Vladislaw

    Robert, just finished reading that link, at first i thought it was an april fools joke article or an article for the onion:

    “The Earth’s Moon has long been recognized as the critical control point, or “Gibralter Point,” of the Solar System: for more than 200 years, the British controlled access to the Mediterranean from their base at Gibraltar; similarly, even an unarmed a base on the Moon would give a similar advantage to whichever nation owned it.

    Although the Constellation plan was justified by the Bush administration on both scientific and economic grounds, more important were other, unspoken, strategic grounds: to put it plainly,: from the Moon one can control access to the other planets. Further, the Moon has been shown to contain critical resources, especially water”

    From the moon, the United States could shoot down any other country’s science probes or manned flights. Gosh wouldn;t that be great, I am sure other countries wouldn’t mind if we did that.

    Dinerman goes on to say that:

    “Even trickier is the fact that the election results indicate that the majority of the voters want to cut federal spending, NASA has always been an easy place to find savings. Canceling the Constellation Moon Program has knocked the supports out from under the old political alliance that kept the space agency’s budget funded at roughly 7-8% of total federal spending. “

    With federal spending at 3.4 trillion that means NASA’s 8% equals 272 billion, so I really dont understand where dinerman’s problem with funding comes from. NASA is actually getting 15 times more money per year that we thought.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Vladislaw wrote @ November 18th, 2010 at 2:07 pm


    Robert, just finished reading that link, at first i thought it was an april fools joke article or an article for the onion:

    I got some yucks out of it as well.

    Dinerman among his many flaws on the notions of space politics and policies is one of the many people today who are really stuck in their thinking in analysis of the past…ie taking things that occurred in the past and projecting them and their solutions onto today’s problems.

    This is readily apparent in people who, like Dinerman think of the Moon as “the high ground” (not his phrase but illustrates his thinking, as the quote you reference). These are old doctrines that are not even suitable for todays earth bound conflicts. On earth “High ground” was good when weapons relied on gravity and mobility was at the speed of feet or animals. Today even on Earth, the high ground is not all that important and is far less important then other aspects like mobility and stealth.

    This sadly is policy wide. Dinerman constantly refers to the “coalition” which kept NASA going, as if the coalition was anything valuable and the results it produced anywhere worth the cost of the effort.

    Old thinking (from comparing todays economic problems to the great depression to space and military policy) is in large measure what is getting the nation in trouble and prohibiting a new Republic (which we invent every so often) from springing up.

    The notions “sound good” (“take the high ground charge”) and kind of rev up the really uninformed…but in the end its so much babble more at home on an episode of Starship Troopers then anything else.

    Robert G. Oler

  • DCSCA

    “Mollohan praised a number of NASA programs developed during his tenure in Congress, from the Earth Observing System to the International Space Station to the Hubble Space Telescope and Mars Exploration Rovers.”

    He’s praising projects initiated in another era. Hope he managed to get back to Congress and vote on a few pieces of legislation today, which is what he was sent there to do, not go to free breakfasts. Because back in real-world America, House Republicans blocked unemployment extentions this morning to very down-to-earth, desperate Americans as the holidays approach, which makes funding more of these boondoggle space projects for elitist eggheads and subsidizing their government contractors appear all the more wasteful. When are space enthusiasts going to get with it and realize the cow has run dry and the Age of Austerity has arrived. Private capital markets are the place to source funding for these projects, not the government– especially a government that’s borrowing 40 cents of every dollar it spends. Time to start scaling your dreams to match the realities of the resources available.

  • amightywind

    CharlesHouston wrote @ November 18th, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    Of course Mr Oler is correct when he says that Constellation was killed, it is dead!! Orion is dead, the fact that the same people are working on the “Multi Purpose Whatever You Call It”, and the fact that it looks supiciously like the Orion is merely a coincidence.

    The asteroid mission requirements remain the same. The Senate has decreed that the HLV will be shuttle-based. The Senate preserved the Lockheed Martin vehicle as the primary manned spacecraft. ATK is convinced its SRB’s will be used on the first stage. It look like they will use Lockmart shuttle 27′ tanks and Rocketdyne SSME’s. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck… Constellation is alive because the mission requirements are still the same. The warts the Senate introduces will be buffed down as engineers begin the task of engineering (again). In the end I expect to see something resembling Ares I & V. From the looks of it now, the manned vehicle will be larger and the carrier vehicle smaller, call them Ares 2 & 4.

    New sheriffs are comin’ to town!

  • The Senate has decreed that the HLV will be shuttle-based.

    “If practicable.” It isn’t, not with the budget they’re going to get.

  • John Malkin

    ATK is convinced its SRB’s will be used on the first stage.

    Because they think they have filled enough pockets. Wonder how much money they pumped into negative ads…

    From the looks of it now, the manned vehicle will be larger and the carrier vehicle smaller, call them Ares 2 & 4

    Smaller? Like a 2 man craft or how about a nice Mercury on steroids.

  • Coastal Ron

    amightywind wrote @ November 18th, 2010 at 3:28 pm

    The Senate has decreed that the HLV will be shuttle-based.

    The Senate said “to the extent practicable” – lots of wiggle room there if they want to use it.

    The asteroid mission requirements remain the same.

    If in same, you mean an unfunded goal, then yes, there continues to be no funding for an asteroid mission, just talk.

    ATK is convinced its SRB’s will be used on the first stage.

    And they’ve been paying a lot of money to help make that happen. How much are they spending on lobbying these days? Priceless

    Constellation is alive because the mission requirements are still the same.

    Sure, if you forget that whole Moon destination thing. Or the pillaging of other programs for funds to cover overruns. Or building a launcher that duplicates existing (and less expensive) launchers. Yep, there is a capsule without a mission, and some sort of heavy launcher – is that what Constellation was?

  • NASA Fan

    “NASA policy is very much developed by committee,” he said. “There’s no defining voice that says, ‘This is the way it’s going to be.’ That’s evident from how this exploration issue has een playing out this year.”

    This says it all folks: No one is leading. Indeed, the Shuttle was designed by committee and clearly the future of HSF is going to be designed by committee as well.

    Who should be leading this NASA policy conversation? And don’t say Bolden; he’s a big liability right now, hence is ‘hiding’.

  • Major Tom

    “The Senate has decreed that the HLV will be shuttle-based.”

    First, the Senate doesn’t “decree” anything. Congress (both houses) passes bills that may or may not become law, depending on whether the President supports them.

    Learn how the US system of government works before you comment on it. Here’s a hint: It’s not a medieval monarchy.

    Second, the 2010 NASA Authorization Act only asks that NASA use the existing Shuttle and Constellation contracts and workforce to the extent “practicable” in the development and operation of the SLS. There is no requirement in the legislation for a Shuttle-derived vehicle.

    Don’t make stuff up.

    “The Senate preserved the Lockheed Martin vehicle as the primary manned spacecraft.”

    Again, the Senate can’t “preserve” anything by itself.

    And again, the 2010 NASA Authorization Act only asks that NASA use the existing Constellation contracts and workforce to the extent “practicable” in the development and operation of the MPCV. The “Lockheed Martin vehicle” is not “preserved”. Orion’s workforce has shrunk, its requirements are unknown, it has no launch vehicle, and the Augustine Committee expressed strong reservations about its operational costs.

    “ATK is convinced its SRB’s will be used on the first stage.”

    ATK is only convinced that’s what they need to tell stockholders until NASA and the executive branch make a decision on what the SLS looks like. The reality is that ATK is only one of 13 contractors pursuing the NASA HLV BAA study, which is the critical path for SLS decisions.

    “It look like they will use Lockmart shuttle 27′ tanks and Rocketdyne SSME’s.”

    Based on what? Setting aside jobs, why would anyone want to continue using Shuttle engines and tanks that are subject to structural cracking and dangerous hydrogen leaks, even after after 30 years of manufacture and operations?

    news.yahoo.com/s/ap/us_space_shuttle

    “In the end I expect to see something resembling Ares I & V.”

    Why would anyone expect to see that? The 2010 NASA Authorization Act provides billions of dollars less for SLS than what was in the prior budget for Ares I and requires SLS to be ready years earlier than what Ares I could deliver. Heck, outside commercial crew, there’s no provision in the legislation for funding any second, smaller crew launcher like Ares I. The SLS is one vehicle that has to clock in with a 75-ton payload from the get-go.

    Goofy…

  • E.P. Grondine

    MT asks:

    “Why would anyone want to continue using Shuttle engines and tanks that are subject to structural cracking and dangerous hydrogen leaks, even after after 30 years of manufacture and operations?”

    Direct does not use the exact same design as the current tank.
    SSME’s have been improved.

  • Major Tom

    “Direct does not use the exact same design as the current tank.”

    Both Shuttle and DIRECT use the same 8.4m (27.6 ft.) ET components and tooling. The ends of the ET are obviously altered in the DIRECT design. But the current Shuttle cracking is in the middle, ribbed section of the ET. That section remains on the DIRECT vehicles.

    “SSME’s have been improved.”

    No doubt, but they’re still very complex, labor-intensive, and expensive compared to other engines.

    FWIW…

  • Robert G. Oler

    amightywind wrote @ November 18th, 2010 at 3:28 pm

    The asteroid mission requirements remain the same. The Senate has decreed that the HLV will be shuttle-based. The Senate preserved the Lockheed Martin vehicle as the primary manned spacecraft. ATK is convinced its SRB’s will be used on the first stage. It look like they will use Lockmart shuttle 27′ tanks and Rocketdyne SSME’s…

    and the FAlcon 9 wont make it to orbit…

    all your statements all not grounded in fact…just rhetoric

    Robert G. OIer

  • Fred Cink

    “Why would anyone want to continue using Shuttle engines and tanks that are subject to structural cracking and dangerous hydrogen leaks, even after 30 years of manufacture and operations.” I guess we could make the ribbed intertank section of the ET with quarter inch thick stainless steel. Gosh, do you suppose that might affect payload? There have been 29 stringer cracks in 18 previous tanks, use of lightweight aluminum-lithium alloy (to increase payload) is a suspect. Oh, Great and All Knowing Major Tom, please enlighten us poor ignorant peons as to the correct materials, dimensions and specifications to build the PERFECT LAUNCH VEHICLE. Please tell us Omnipotent One the correct fuel to use in said vehicle to avoid dangerous hydrogen leaks, (coal? peat? animal dung?) Judging from your arrogant statements I am at a loss as to why are you not the chief designer of all things aerospace. I am absolutely sure that your obviously unlimited knowledge and wisdom (coupled with your modest benevolence) could do so much to improve our lot. Maybe you could just alter the laws of physics to make it safe and easy to levitate 100 ton lots to orbit, it shouldn’t be too difficult for YOU…should it?

  • DCSCA

    @MajorTom- re “2010 NASA Authorization Act…” Rest easy, there most likely wont be a 2020 NASA Authorization Act because there won’t be an independent civilian agency called ‘NASA.’ It’s an expendible agency; a luxury– a Cold War relic from the 1960s increasingly out of sorts with the realities of 2010. But it may very well exist as a smaller, less expensive department of the DoD, safer and less exposed to the budget axe under the ‘umbrella’ of ‘national security.’

  • Brad

    The last seven years have been very hard on NASA. And it hasn’t helped NASA to endure two exchanges of majority power in Congress during that time, with the disruption of the budget process such exchanges seem to come with.

  • reader

    “Why would anyone want to continue using Shuttle engines and tanks that are subject to structural cracking and dangerous hydrogen leaks, even after after 30 years of manufacture and operations?”

    Isnt it often claimed that its now better and safer than ever .. ?

  • Ben Russell-Gough

    Back on the topic of Jeff’s original post, I read over on NSF that the Senate minority leader has declared his opposition to an omnibus appropriations bill. Given the current divisions of power in the new Congress, I think that makes a full-year CR a bit more likely.

    IMHO, a delay of this length will greatly increase the likelihood of SLS (presuming it goes ahead) not being shuttle-derived.

    On the subject of the cracks in the hydrogen tank on the current ET, does anyone check the Delta-IV cores for problems like this? It occurs to me that the temperature extremes experienced by cryogenic tanks potentially could make problems like this quite common. Naturally, they are not something that NASA wants. However, I wonder how common it is for there to be cracks in cryogenic fuel and oxidiser tanks, hidden safely from view under the insulation foam.

  • Martijn Meijering

    Oh, Great and All Knowing Major Tom, please enlighten us poor ignorant peons as to the correct materials, dimensions and specifications to build the PERFECT LAUNCH VEHICLE.

    Maybe you should ask Bill Nelson.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Fred Cink wrote @ November 18th, 2010 at 10:03 pm

    “Why would anyone want to continue using Shuttle engines and tanks that are subject to structural cracking and dangerous hydrogen leaks, even after 30 years of manufacture and operations.” I guess we could make the ribbed intertank section of the ET with quarter inch thick stainless steel. Gosh, do you suppose that might affect payload?

    this sort of mentality is like the person who when confronted with the blow by on the O rings and the cold temps of 51L said “when do you want me to launch summer?”

    if the intertank region was designed to “crack” with the mixing with super cold propellents then thats one thing (and Little scary) but the fact that cracks are happening and I assume thats not planned should give everyone pause to find out why and stop it. Otherwise we are just like the O rings or the foam…flying with an out of spec condition that no one understands and everyone is tolerating…and people like you are trivializing.

    Robert G. Oler

  • Coastal Ron

    Ben Russell-Gough wrote @ November 19th, 2010 at 3:26 am

    …does anyone check the Delta-IV cores for problems like this?

    According to an article I found from ULA, the Delta IV CBC’s do use foam on the exterior of the tanks. However, unless there was a reason to peel off the insulation, I doubt they would do such a check on the pad.

    We also need to keep in mind the differences in the structural loads that the Shuttle ET and the Delta IV CBC have to deal with. The Delta IV CBC only has to worry about tank pressure (expansion) and uni-directional load (gravity/thrust) – pretty simple, especially when you’re using a tube design. The Shuttle ET also needs to handle the weight and thrust of the side-mounted orbiter and the two SRB’s (the ET is a structural framework as well as a cryogenic tank) – much more complicated.

    This whole issue gets back to design philosophies. Sure we can build a very complex launch vehicle that maximizes the mass fraction to orbit, but what does that cost compared to a less efficient launcher that has a much lower Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)?

    I think that is the problem with the Shuttle – it has so many complicated systems that the TCO is very high, and any derivative launcher will have a high TCO versus the Delta/Atlas/Falcon tube design.

  • byeman

    “On the subject of the cracks in the hydrogen tank ”

    The cracks are in the intertank and not the hydrogen or oxygen tanks. Delta IV uses a composite intertank and not a stringer/frame construction of the ET intertank

  • Major Tom

    “I guess we could make the ribbed intertank section of the ET with quarter inch thick stainless steel. Gosh, do you suppose that might affect payload? There have been 29 stringer cracks in 18 previous tanks, use of lightweight aluminum-lithium alloy (to increase payload) is a suspect.”

    The alloy isn’t the problem. It’s the interaction of the extremely low temperature cryogens, the porous insulation, and the high local ambient humidity. Water vapor penetrates the insulation, is frozen, expands, and then cracks the insulation. It’s the same phenomenon that cracks pavement in cold weather and was the root cause of the Columbia accident. If you follow NASA’s human space flight programs, you should know this by now.

    If you want to minimize this problem in a future vehicle, then you should minimize the cryogens in that vehicle. RP is the usual and obvious non-cryogenic alternative to LH2. It’s used in the first stage of two, large, domestic launch vehicles and in the first stages of other launch vehicles around the world. Besides minimizing the problem above, RP is volumetrically more efficient that LH2 (a critical consideration for large propellant tanks and first-stage performance) and much simpler and less costly to handle for ground operations.

    “Please tell us Omnipotent One the correct fuel to use in said vehicle to avoid dangerous hydrogen leaks, (coal? peat? animal dung?)”

    I don’t think a change in propellants is necessary. A modern engine design with modern interfaces would probably do the trick.

    But going the RP route and avoiding easy LH2 boil-off would eliminate the issue as well.

    “Judging from your arrogant statements…”

    What is “arrogant” about pointing out that the existing Shuttle system is currently experiencing a litany of technical issues that are inducing multi-week delays in the next launch?

    What is “arrogant” about pointing out that these problems persist in these Shuttle elements despite almost 30 years of manufacture and operations?

    What is “arrogant” about pointing out that given these persistant issues, it would be foolish to carry these elements and problems forward into a new launch vehicle that will likely have to meet a higher operational tempo, especially when there are abundant, less expensive, domestic alternatives?

    These are the facts. Choose to ignore them if you must, but don’t blame me. I had no part in the decisions that created the STS.

    “Oh, Great and All Knowing Major Tom, please enlighten us poor ignorant peons as to the correct materials, dimensions and specifications to build the PERFECT LAUNCH VEHICLE.”

    There is no such thing as a “perfect launch vehicle”. It depends on the requirements, the available budget and schedule, and the risks you’re willing to take.

    But again, it’s foolish to carry existing LV elements with known, major operational problems forward into a new launch vehicle, especially when there are abundant, less expensive, domestic alternatives. That’s especially true of an very expensive HLV that will likely need to support a higher launch tempo for human exploration missions.

    And given that low-cost launch of large volumes of propellant for in-space stages is what’s really driving these human exploration missions, if I really was king, then I would try to avoid expensive and cumbersome HLVs altogether. Even Constellation was going to need in-space propellant management. I would push that technology to its limits, and invest in novel launch approaches like gas guns and very low-cost ELVs that can be developed and operated for a small fraction of the cost of an HLV.

    “I am at a loss as to why are you not the chief designer of all things aerospace. I am absolutely sure that your obviously unlimited knowledge and wisdom (coupled with your modest benevolence) could do so much to improve our lot. Maybe you could just alter the laws of physics to make it safe and easy to levitate 100 ton lots to orbit, it shouldn’t be too difficult for YOU…should it?”

    If you can’t participate in a debate without resorting to insulting sarcasm, then you shouldn’t post here. Take your slime elsewhere.

    Sigh…

  • Major Tom

    “Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)”

    I’d replace that metric with “NASA Cost of Ownership (NCO)”. If NASA can leverage military or commercial launch infrastructures and workforces with other customers, that will almost certainly be less costly than NASA going it alone on Shuttle or another NASA-unique LV base.

    FWIW…

  • Major Tom

    “But it may very well exist as a smaller, less expensive department of the DoD, safer and less exposed to the budget axe under the ‘umbrella’ of ‘national security.’”

    First, NASA may take a substantial budget hit with other discretionary agencies in the years ahead, but it’s not going to disappear. The worst case Republican budget scenarios only shave a couple billion dollars off NASA’s $19 billion annual budget. After that kind of budget hit, some plans, programs, or field centers within NASA will have to go away or undergo major reform. But NASA has survived intact for the past several years on a ~$17 billion budget and would continue to do so in the future.

    Second, NASA’s charter legislation requires it to be a civil agency. Congress and the President would have to go back and fundamentally alter the agency’s purpose in the law to transfer NASA to DOD.

    Third, DOD already has multiple military space R&D agencies (USAF, NRO, DARPA, etc.). It doesn’t need or want another.

    Fourth, the national security “umbrella” isn’t going to save anyone from cuts in the years ahead. Six of the ten largest budget cuts in the recent deficit commission proposal came from DOD. Even the Secretary of Defense is trying to whack DOD’s budget by $100 billion over the next five years.

    FWIW…

  • MichaelC

    “Fourth, the national security “umbrella” isn’t going to save anyone from cuts in the years ahead.”

    Don’t make stuff up; the DOD budget is immense- so big it cannot be audited. They cannot FIND billions of dollars. The umbrella spends enough on toilet paper to fund nasa a couple times over.

  • DCSCA

    @ MajorTom- “NASA’s charter legislation requires it to be a civil agency.”

    You may have missed earlier postings. NASA’s charter can be revoked with the stroke of a pen and, of course, ‘national security’ isn’t a guarantee of saving a program/project but it has shown to be a strong shield. Cuts are a far cary from outright cancellation as well. And if you look cloaser at DoD ‘cuts’ they tend to be savings recycled back into it as opposed to outright program eliminations. But the key targets appear to be duplications of facilities, personnel, programs, parts, etc. The Age of Austerity has arrived. It’s pretty much too late to save much of what NASA pretends it is- or was. That goes for a lot of other government agencies.

  • DCSCA

    @byeman wrote @ November 19th, 2010 at 12:09 pm

    Stop making excuses. NASA has been flying shuttles for three decades. Hydrogen leaks and cracks in ET hardware surfacing days or hours before launches scheduled months earlier are unacceptable and indicate sloppy managment. At this point in flight operations, nearly thirty years after STS-1, these kind of ‘problems’ should have been put to bed years ago. The quicker this program is shuttered now, the better. It’s simply wasting money now and putting lives at risk.

  • NASA’s charter can be revoked with the stroke of a pen

    Nonsense.

  • Byeman

    DCSCA wrote @ November 19th, 2010 at 3:53 pm

    Just because you say NASA is going way on every thread doesn’t make it true.

  • DCSCA

    @Major Tom wrote @ November 19th, 2010 at 2:30 pm
    - “First, NASA may take a substantial budget hit with other discretionary agencies in the years ahead, but it’s not going to disappear. The worst case Republican budget scenarios only shave a couple billion dollars off NASA’s $19 billion annual budget. After that kind of budget hit, some plans, programs, or field centers within NASA will have to go away or undergo major reform. But NASA has survived intact for the past several years on a ~$17 billion budget and would continue to do so in the future.”

    So? That’s not nearly enough.

    “Second, NASA’s charter legislation requires it to be a civil agency. Congress and the President would have to go back and fundamentally alter the agency’s purpose in the law to transfer NASA to DOD.”

    So? Change is good. A change in the charter, a stroke of a pen and its done. Injecting the poison of comemrcialization into the charter in the Reagan years was easy enough.

    “Third, DOD already has multiple military space R&D agencies (USAF, NRO, DARPA, etc.). It doesn’t need or want another.”

    Which is precisely why consolidation is necessary. What DoD says it ‘wants’ or ‘needs’ is irrelevent. It salutes and does what its told by civilian authority- and if that authority orders it to consoldate space operations and absorb NASA assets, it will do so.

  • Fred Cink

    Mr Oler, I am not trivializing the potental catastrophic impact of flaws in complex systems such as the shuttle. Sarcasm aside, I was trying to point out what Major Tom has now said, that there is no perfect launch vehicle. Even the most simple of things is almost always a compromise to some degree, and when it comes to engineering large complex systems that are designed to go from 0-18,000 mph in 8 minutes it’s definitely a serious challenge with grave consequences for mistakes of any kind. That is why space travel/exploration/exploitation is so dangerous and expensive, and why there is so much heated debate as to its risk/worth and what path if any should be taken.

  • Fred Cink

    Major Tom, I try to limit my slimy sarcasm when I can but sometimes feel compelled to its use. As to your response, I agree that there is no perfect launch vehicle and that the shuttle is/was a fascinating/exasperating/ disapointing (and in the case of Challenger and Columbia) heartbreaking expample or the conflicting physical/economic/governmental policy forces at work during its developement. (and I do not hold you accountable) All the 20/20 hindsight of today cannot fix the mistakes/misjudgements of the past which makes it so important to …not forget the hard lessons learned and…arrive, today, at better conclusions to forge a better future. I am aware of the engineering considerations of working with bulky and cryogenic LH2 vs RP, but at least some people (Delta 4 and SDLV/Direct types) still believe the advantage in isp is worth it. I like you disagree at least for lower stages. I think the heavy version of Atlas 5 using multiple CCBs (as in delta 4) is the answer. I don’t think it’s worth the time and $ to develope a new kerolox engine with the RD180 family already a proven and cost effective product. Gas gun or mag lev launch with attached kick stage would be great, but with 2/4/6 year election cycles, what are the odds of getting those who consider pork above all else, to think that far out of the box. Would like to hear from you on the above and why supposedly simple SRBs are not the answer for boosters.

  • DCSCA

    @Rand Simberg wrote @ November 19th, 2010 at 4:10 pm

    No its not. It was created with one and can be dissolved with one.

  • A change in the charter, a stroke of a pen and its done.

    Please stop demonstrating your ignorance of how the government works. There is no one whose pen can rewrite the Space Act with a “stroke.”

  • DCSCA

    @Rand Simberg wrote @ November 20th, 2010 at 3:25 pm “Please stop demonstrating your ignorance of how the government works.’ That’sjust the point Simberg- it DOESNT work. As a conservative, you should know that all too well. And yes, the agency was born with the stroke of a pen and can be eliminated with same. Good grief.

  • OK, I’ll explain basic civics to you. NASA was chartered by legislation from Congress, which was then signed by President Eisenhower. No president can undo that with “the stroke of a pen.” It would require new legislation from Congress.

    Idiot.

  • And by the way, I’m not a conservative. If you call yourself one, that’s one of the reasons why.

  • A_M_Swallow

    The Tea Party appears to be planning big cuts. They just have not decided what to cut so this is likely to trigger grid lock Congress for a year.

    IMHO Any Democrats and Republicans leaving Congress have until Christmas to get the budgets for their achievements passed. If they do not they are likely to find that the legacy for the last two years of work is nothing.

  • DCSCA

    Rand Simberg wrote @ November 21st, 2010 at 11:09 am

    SpaceX shills are worried, aren’t they. No NASA, no SpaceX.

  • Major Tom

    “I don’t think it’s worth the time and $ to develope a new kerolox engine with the RD180 family already a proven and cost effective product.”

    Whether we “Americanize” RD-180 production or develop an entirely domestic RP engine, we’re talking about budgets that start in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Without having more specifics, it’s hard for me to say which option is best.

    I will note that RD-180 production requires powder metallurgy techniques that US industry has never tried to master (at least to my knowledge). It’s only one thing to consider, but the difficulty of reinventing and then applying an entire metallurgical technique might be more time- and cost-consuming than simply building a new RP engine with well-known and wll-understood techniques.

    “Gas gun or mag lev launch with attached kick stage would be great, but… what are the odds of getting those who consider pork above all else, to think that far out of the box.”

    Gas gun technology is older and better understood than maglev technology. Only a couple terrestrial maglev trains have been operating for less than a decade, but gas guns have been used in high-impact and reentry research for decades. I’m unaware of any maglev launch hardware development (only paper studies), but projects like SHARP have developed subscale gas gun launch prototypes since the 1980s. (Even Saddam Hussein had a secret, space-capable gas gun project called Babylon.)

    A company called QuickLaunch founded by the SHARP team claims that an ocean-based, space-capable gas guns for propellant delivery could be built for $500 million each.

    quicklaunchinc.com/technology

    That amount is on par with NASA’s COTS investment, which arguably escaped the notice of “those who consider pork above all else”.

    I would also throw $500 million at Loral’s Aquarius low-tech, super-cheap ELV concept.

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aquarius_Launch_Vehicle

    What’s nice about both of these concepts is that, if they work, they’d break the back of propellant launch costs without risking the many billions of dollars of investment usually required for an HLV or RLV.

    “Would like to hear from you on the above and why supposedly simple SRBs are not the answer for boosters.”

    The Shuttle SRBs are not “simple”. They’re the largest (by far) solid rockets in the world — so large that they must be cast in segments and then assembled into a single motor, unlike every other solid rocket. They are also very heavy, which, if your SDHLV is also heavy, would necessitate investing in a new mobile launch platform, which is probably at least a billion dollar investment in and of itself. They have to be cast in Utah and shipped cross country to Florida, another unique cost. Because they must be shipped fueled (rather than fueld on the pad), they are a huge fire/explosive risk, which imposes extensive safety measures and unique costs on everything that’s processed through the Shuttle VAB. There are a limited number of SRB casings, which must be recovered after each flight, imposing additional costs.

    Even setting the unique complexities and cost of the Shuttle SRBs aside, adding solid rocket boosters to a launch vehicle always adds costs. No matter how simple, solid rocket boosters represent an additional engine production line that must be added on top of the costs of the vehicle’s first- and second-stage engine production lines. Don’t get me wrong — smaller solid rocket boosters allow a design like the Atlas V or the Delta IV to address a wider range of payload sizes without the full costs of their heavy variants. But if you’re building for a single, known payload mass (or relatively narrow range of payload masses), then you’re almost always better off addressing that payload with as few different engine types and production lines as possible.

    It’s important to note that the SRBs were added to the Shuttle as a compromise to meet a performance target within a limited development budget. They were not a desired solution, and the vehicle has paid for that compromise in terms of its operational tempo (or lack thereof) and high operational costs.

    FWIW…

  • Major Tom

    “So? That’s not nearly enough.”

    Sure it is. NASA has survived on ~$17 billion budgets for years.

    “So? Change is good. A change in the charter, a stroke of a pen and its done”

    I don’t know what country you’re from, but again, nothing gets done in the US system of government with “a stroke of a pen”. Multiple votes in various committees and chambers of Congress are needed to change the charter of a federal department or agency. Even then, the President may not sign the relevant bill into law.

    “Injecting the poison of comemrcialization into the charter in the Reagan years was easy enough.”

    Since when is “comemrcialization [sic]” the equivalent of “poison”?

    “Which is precisely why consolidation is necessary. What DoD says it ‘wants’ or ‘needs’ is irrelevent. It salutes and does what its told by civilian authority- and if that authority orders it to consoldate space operations and absorb NASA assets, it will do so.”

    DOD’s “civilian authority” is the Secretary of Defense. He has no need for or interest in a fourth or fifth space R&D agency. Even if they somehow voted and agreed to change NASA’s charter to a military one, there’s no reason for the Congress and President to impose a $17-20 billion agency on a $600-700 billion department. The tail does not wag the dog.

    FWIW…

  • No NASA, no SpaceX.

    Only a fool unfamiliar with the history of SpaceX and their launch customers would believe such nonsense.

  • Major Tom

    “No NASA, no SpaceX.”

    This is an ignorant statement. The SpaceX manifest is chock full of non-NASA customers out through 2017:

    spacex.com/launch_manifest.php

    Two of these customers (ORBCOMM and Iridium) require multiple flights. The Iridium contract alone is worth 2/3rds more than what SpaceX will receive from its NASA COTS agreement.

    investor.iridium.com/releasedetail.cfm?ReleaseID=479890

    There are even two Dragon flights that aren’t going to the ISS.

    Even if NASA disappeared tomorrow, SpaceX, including Falcon 9 and Dragon, would continue on as before.

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