NASA, White House

Briefs: Sullivan’s new job, another CR, and editorials

NASA administrator Charles Bolden soon won’t be the only former astronaut with a key administration post. The White House announced this week it has nominated Kathryn Sullivan to the post of Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Observation and Prediction. That position oversees the National Weather Service and other NOAA programs dealing with weather and water studies; on the NOAA org chart it’s also identified as NOAA deputy administrator, reporting to NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco. Sullivan, who flew on three shuttle missions between 1984 and 1992, also served as NOAA’s chief scientist in the 1990s after leaving NASA.

Congress has passed a second continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government funded at FY2010 levels through December 18. The first CR expired Friday night. That continued delay in enacting a final FY11 appropriations bill doesn’t still well with the editorial board of the Orlando Sentinel, which wants Congress to fund NASA at the authorized level of $19 billion, despite calls by House GOP leadership to cut overall federal spending back to 2008 levels. “We applaud the Republicans’ determination to cut federal spending. But surely there are riper targets than the space program,” the editorial argues, citing farm subsidies as one example. “NASA has been in a fog too long. Congress needs to clear away the cloud of doubt enveloping the space program and give the agency the money it needs.”

In the latest issue of Scientific American magazine, meanwhile, the editors back the administration’s original plans for NASA and call on President Obama to “keep pushing for more reforms” of the space agency, in particular technology development and commercial crew development. “The first goal should be to fix the flaws in the plan that Congress has enacted, beginning with the lack of sufficient funds for technology development,” the editorial suggests, followed by giving the agency “some stability of funding and purpose”, including some kind of “dedicated funding stream”, which the piece does not elaborate upon.

86 comments to Briefs: Sullivan’s new job, another CR, and editorials

  • One can imagine a similar editorial in the Des Moines Register:

    “We applaud the Republicans’ determination to cut federal spending. But surely there are riper targets than farm subsidies,” the editorial argues, citing the space program as one example.

    It’s always, “Protect our pork, cut someone else’s pork.”

  • Govvie

    “One can imagine a similar editorial in the Des Moines Register:”

    Great point, I was about to say something similar. There has been a lot of griping among many of my colleagues about the proposed federal pay freeze. While I’m not happy, I certainly have no grounds to complain when millions can’t find a job, or have had wages/hours cut. These same people will then complain about “wasteful government programs” (literally in the next breath!) without realizing our own program could easily fall under that category, depending on who you ask. Like you mentioned above, it’s always someone else who’s the porker. While I don’t want to see NASA get cuts, I think some people still don’t get that the party is over, at least for a while.

  • SpaceNow

    Govvie wrote —While I don’t want to see NASA get cuts, I think some people still don’t get that the party is over, at least for a while.

    Okay Govvie, but how long is “at least for a while. The 2010-2020 budget projections shows a deficit of over $9 trillion and people can not agree to reduce the defits by less that $4 trillion over the next 10 years.

    So, Govvie how long should the “party” be over 10 years, 12 years, 15.

    Why not cut the funding for all space activities(private and public) to zero,then we can start “partying” again sooner, maybe in 10-15 years?

  • Govvie

    “Why not cut the funding for all space activities(private and public) to zero,then we can start “partying” again sooner, maybe in 10-15 years?”

    If the infrastructure, expertise, and institutional knowledge could be reconstituted after such a zeroing, I probably wouldn’t have much objection (other than emotional). However, I tend to think a lot would be lost during the interim. I’m not a policy analyst or economist, but I have a little training in knowledge management, and it’s a sad fact that it’s easy for organizations to lose knowledge, even when precautions are taken.

  • Egad

    > and it’s a sad fact that it’s easy for organizations to lose knowledge, even when precautions are taken.

    Indeed so. Back in the day when I, too, was a govvie toiling in the intelligence fields inside the Beltway, it was frightening to see how often things kept being done over and over due to lack of institutional memory.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Govvie wrote @ December 4th, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    If the infrastructure, expertise, and institutional knowledge could be reconstituted after such a zeroing,

    the problem is that the infrastructure, expertise and institutional knowledge that is left after the shuttle program is NOT all that valuable.

    While there is individual expertise that is useful as applied by the individuals the reality is that the collective expertise is ONLY useful if the norm in human spaceflight endeavors by the government is/are projects that routinely have no budget upper bound or time limit number.

    My friend Mark Whittington is always fond of saying “stimulus money would have fixed Cx”…(or a thought close to that) which misses the point. As it stands right now NASA HSF in particular but all of NASA space efforts lacks completely the ability to formulate a program that can be managed by some kind of actual budget and is affordable.

    That is not an individual expertise program but it is a management culture that (sadly) is prevelant in the federal government and needs to be deleted from how things are done. SpaceX, Virgin, Armadillo and a lot others have done not record breaking technology development, but have learned to develop operational technology in both a budgetary environment but also in terms of an operational one.

    “how good is good enough” is an important consideration in almost every product that is affordable…and NASA (and to someextent the military) no longer have that ability.

    There is a great story that stays stuck in my head about the development of the video/con tubes for the Ranger series of probes. This was the “long tent in the pole” for Ranger and really did not get solved until number 7 (although 3-5 had problems that mask the issue and 6 was a complete flop because the video system did not work)…

    But the improvisation and budgetary engineering that made Ranger work…is something that is missing today.

    SpaceX (and some others) seem to have found it

    Robert G. Oler

  • GuessWho

    Oler wrote – ” … As it stands right now NASA HSF in particular but all of NASA space efforts lacks completely the ability to formulate a program that can be managed by some kind of actual budget and is affordable.” (My emphasis added)

    All of NASA space efforts? You have studied each and every NASA space effort and found evidence that each and every one of them have not been managed to an actual budget and schedule? Can you please provide your data that supports this claim or provide a link to the studies that back up your claim so that the rest of us can be informed? And who defines what is affordable? You?

    “… SpaceX (and some others) seem to have found it”

    They have? You have data that shows that SpaceX has managed their program within their original budget (and schedule)? You have data that shows their business case has successfully closed and that their long-term cash flow is positive based on their current pricing and delivery schedule? You have data that show their business case is robust enough to cover launch failures and subsequent down time while root cause analyses are completed and the underlying problem is resolved to allow them to return to flight? You have clear evidence that SpaceX will not be just another SeaLaunch? Again, please share this data with everyone so that we can be as informed as you are.

  • Robert G. Oler

    GuessWho wrote @ December 5th, 2010 at 9:30 am

    Oler wrote – ” … As it stands right now NASA HSF in particular but all of NASA space efforts lacks completely the ability to formulate a program that can be managed by some kind of actual budget and is affordable.” (My emphasis added)

    and Mr. Who wrote:
    “All of NASA space efforts?”

    the rule of course is that with every generalization there is some exception but the point is clear and the reality is obvious to someone who is simply not trying to win the debate on “points” having lost it on facts.

    While there are doubltess one or two or three or some NASA space projects that are on time and on budget the reality is that particularly in its HSF programs but also in its “high dollar” efforts like Webb…there is nothing on time or on budget about them.

    As for SpaceX…(and others). They are commercial concerns and so far seem to be operating within the allowable money. Enjoy Dec 7 (or whenever SpaceX actually flies) on far less money then NASA HSF can use to do just about anything…SpaceX is flying an operational capsule.

    Tell me why NASA cannot do that?

    Robert G. Oler

  • They have? You have data that shows that SpaceX has managed their program within their original budget (and schedule)?

    We have data that shows that, whatever their original budget and schedule, they have developed a new company, two new launch vehicles, a return capsule, and the test, manufacturing and operations infrastructure to support them, for less than the cost of a year’s overrun on Constellation. If it ends up costing double their estimate, it remains a bargain compared to NASA business as usual.

  • Vladislaw

    GuessWho wrote:

    “All of NASA space efforts? You have studied each and every NASA space effort and found evidence that each and every one of them have not been managed to an actual budget and schedule?”

    I believe Mister Oler would have a lot easier time trying to find a project that went either behind schedule and over budget, than you would have trying to find a product that was under or on budget and time schedule. By a factor of at least 20.

  • Scott Bass

    I’ve always been an advocate of more NASA centers perhaps with less responsibilities spread more evenly throughout the united states, Surely NASA funding would be more reliable if their were stake holders in more states. At the very least there should be NASA educational outreach offices in every U.S. Capital. I personally know the lady in charge of the langely office, she does an outstanding job but is responsible for NASA exhibit loans etc for the whole southeast. I realize that is advocating even more pork but some pork is good, education being one of them.. So anyone know how many states benefit from NASA spending? South Carolina does not seem to make the list although there may be some company here I am not aware of

  • Dennis Berube

    We goofed when we allowed the government to cancel the Saturn 5. I haved heard that if the design was chosen again, it would take ten years to retool for the project. Wont happen…. If everything is dropped we lose time and knowledge. Again wont happen.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Dennis Berube wrote @ December 5th, 2010 at 4:57 pm

    We goofed when we allowed the government to cancel the Saturn 5…

    why? In current dollars it was costing about 2 billion a flight.

    Robert G. Oler

  • Scott Bass

    Dennis, you can always hope that China will be transparent enough to share their program with the media in a very public way. they are entering their Gemeni era now and have a great national pride in the space program which will in time result in a saturn v like rocket capable of landing on the moon. They will probably be vague long enough to ensure they succeed before anyone else……it has been so long since Apollo now it’s as if it never happened. they also have an economy to support it and leaders who are not worried about re election. Politics is what has killed our space program, even if everything were to come together in the U.S. For another moon shot, a preaident or congress would just kill it again

  • they are entering their Gemeni era now and have a great national pride in the space program which will in time result in a saturn v like rocket capable of landing on the moon. They will probably be vague long enough to ensure they succeed before anyone else

    This is stupid. You’re not going to build a Saturn V class vehicle and keep it a secret. The first nation to get back to the moon will be the one that figures out that one doesn’t need a Saturn V to do it. That goes double for the first nation to go back to the moon to stay.

  • GuessWho

    Oler wrote – “… the rule of course is that with every generalization there is some exception …”

    Then quit talking in broad-brush generalizations. That is amateurish at best particularly from someone who lectures others on presenting concise arguments. Besides, I am still waiting for the facts to support your assertion that “all” NASA space efforts (now clarified to exclude “the one or two or three” projects) are not managed to a budget and schedule. Tick tock.

    “As for SpaceX…(and others). They are commercial concerns and so far seem to be operating within the allowable money. …SpaceX is flying an operational capsule.”

    You didn’t answer the question, what data do you have that SpaceX is currently operating within their original budget and schedule? You pillory other organizations for failing to meet (or even operate to) budget and schedule and then make a weak claim that SpaceX should be commended for doing what these organizations could not. Show the evidence that your position is valid.

    Finally, the Dragon capsule is fully operational? It has a LAS? It has life support? It can perform autonomous (or semi-autonomous) rendezvous and prox-ops? Given the first mission profile is defined by SpaceX to be only 5 hours (a handful of orbits), that means it will have deploy its solar arrays and generate on-board power rather than just run off batteries. You know this for a fact? You have a copy of their mission profile? All the flight software is complete and ready to test on-orbit including the functions listed above? Please share this info so the rest of can be informed when they Launch on Dec 7 (note original date (at least for 2010) was August 18, 2010 but I guess that doesn’t count for being behind schedule in your book). Since you continually compare this LEO designed Dragon to the BEO Orion, I can only surmise that in your mind the are equivalent and thus equivalent comparison are valid. Thus Dragon can land in Antarctica and provide 48-hr life support to the crew under these conditions? Can you point me to their design documentation that shows this requirement is satisfied?

    I eagerly await. Tick tock …

  • Beancounter from Downunder

    No Scott, I don’t think that Politics is what killed NASA’s HSF effort. What killed it was an Administrator named Griffin, who decided on a technology direction that was inferior to existing systems and then got stuck believing his technology was the be-end and end-all. Once it got going, it became all about the Pork associated with it.

  • Beancounter from Downunder

    This is a bit OT but it’ll be interesting to see what political reactions follow the SpaceX COTS-C Demo1 flight either way. I predict deafening silence should it be successful, and full blown condemnation of any ‘commercial’ effort should there be even a hint of failure.
    Anyone else?

  • DCSCA

    Robert G. Oler wrote @ December 5th, 2010 at 5:42 pm

    Not if they’d been stamped out over 40 years and improved over time.

  • DCSCA

    The population of the entire state of Iowa is roughly 3,000,000. The population of the city of Brooklyn, New York alone is 2.6 million.

  • Curtis Quick

    Scott Bass wrote @ December 5th, 2010 at 6:06 pm

    Scott, politics is what got us to the moon in the first place! The USA surely did not spend hundreds of billions to go there for exploration and science!! Apollo served its purpose well as a tool for winning the cold war. When the Americans beat the Russians to the moon the goal had been met and there was no reason to keep spending billions.

    There is no cold war to fight now. China today is not Russia of the 1960s. The world has long since made it’s choice between capitalism and communism. Even if China wanted to spend their ecomony into a hole funding a new moon mission, the moon would not get them what it gave the US. We won and no one can take that from us. If China was to make this choice and succeed, we would all congratulate them for repeating what we did more than 50 years ago. But that is all they would get for it. Gee, they get to spend hundreds of billions to come in second, fifty years late!!

    What a bargain. Go for it, I say. And by the way China, we have loads of technology that you could buy to help you on your way. Talk about ROI, we could make a bundle off the Chinese!! Who knows, they might even spend themselves into oblivion like the Soviets did on their military back in the eighties. Could be a new source of funding for the new Commercial American Space Age!!! Hmmm, would that be CASA, instead of NASA??? I can feel a paradigm shifting already. ;-)

  • Das Boese

    Dennis Berube wrote @ December 5th, 2010 at 4:57 pm
    Scott Bass wrote @ December 5th, 2010 at 6:06 pm

    Why does every plan for exploring the moon have to look like Apollo? Why would the Chinese choose to go with such an unsustainable architecture?

  • Dennis Berube

    First, I agree it is politics that make or break our space program. That is sad, that our leaders do not have a dream for the future. As to the outline of the Apollo program, being maintained, it worked, plain and simple. My comment on the Saturn class of vehicle, is that if we had sustained it, we would quite probably have a base on the Moon by now. We wouldnt be fumbling around int he dark so to speak. Im not saying either that it would have been cheap, because I dont think that as long as we use standard rocket tech. spaceflight will continue to be expensive just as our military endeavors continue to be. I truly hope that the up and coming Dragon flight will be totally successful, as it will give us another way to space. Every door that opens to the final frontier is good, be it commercial or government. I think both should continue.

  • Dennis Berube

    I think that if the Dragon flight is successful, and I only hope for the best, our government will take a cautious look at it. I think project Orion will continue, as it is a deep space program as opposed to just Earth orbit. I dont see Orion ending. I even hope that NASA will pay Musk the money instead of Russia. Remains to be seen, as our government, likes to see jobs going overseas. With all of this, whether Orion is launched on Delta, Atlas, etc. which ever is the cheaper, I believe deep space exploration by humans is necessary for the future of our species. There is already talk that China, which is the world biggest supplier, of certain minerals necessary for military might, is cutting back on exports of the important elements. I understand that even the Moon has some of these. Space can supply us with important necessities for all facets of life here on Earth.

  • Dennis Berube wrote:

    We goofed when we allowed the government to cancel the Saturn 5.

    There is no need for a Saturn V. There is no Congressional will for a Moon program or any other deep space exploration. The “goof” would be to spend $250 billion on something not wanted or needed.

  • amightywind

    Curtis Quick wrote:

    There is no cold war to fight now. China today is not Russia of the 1960s. The world has long since made it’s choice between capitalism and communism.

    The Cold War was foremost a battle of empires. In this respect conflict between the US and China is no different.

    And by the way China, we have loads of technology that you could buy to help you on your way. Talk about ROI, we could make a bundle off the Chinese!!

    Before you sell high technology to China you should read this cautionary tale.

  • Scott Bass

    Just to be clear, I was not stating that china would build a Saturn v class vehicle in secret, I was only stating they would be much further along in their space program before an announcement of lunar intention was made public. I believe their is the financial backing and public support in china to make it happen, your just never going to see a jfk type speech to go along with it or a deadline to achieve it. And by the way The Chinese economy is a machine at this point, they have there issues but it can not even be compared to Russia.

    I concede there is no space race nor will there be, not for something like a moon shot, however watching hi def tv being beamed back as China plants there red flag on the moon could possibly wake Americans finally scratch there head and wonder why we are not there, I think the moon for china is a dressed rehearsal for china anyway, Mars will be their ultimate goal simply because they would be first.

  • Scott Bass

    I also would like to point out that all the billions spent on cancelled programs in our country over the last several decades are not exactly secrets…… China has a wealth of data at their disposal to use. They have spys too, I still find it interesting they went with Soyuz designs

  • Robert G. Oler

    DCSCA wrote @ December 5th, 2010 at 11:08 pm

    Robert G. Oler wrote @ December 5th, 2010 at 5:42 pm

    Not if they’d been stamped out over 40 years and improved over time…

    the shuttle system has if anything gotten more expensive

    Robert G. Oler

  • Scott Bass

    I had one more thing to add, I personally found the dismissive speech by Obama and the general feeling among other Americans that going back to the moon is not a big deal, “been there done that” attitude as insulting. it’s like discovering America and saying, well we found it, it does not matter what other countries go there we were first

  • Robert G. Oler

    amightywind wrote @ December 6th, 2010 at 9:18 am

    “The Cold War was foremost a battle of empires. In this respect conflict between the US and China is no different.”

    this kind of thinking is what has gotten the US in trouble under Bush and in the mideast and in human spaceflight.

    There are battles of empires but they are very different battles. The one with the USSR was both military and psuedo military…and in that motiff the race to the Moon fit in nicely.

    Other then doing it, the race itself had no real value. It was not required to return any value for its cost other then that “we be number 1″.

    That reality drove one decision after another in the Apollo project and made it easy for (LBJ or Nixon take ones pick) to pull the plug on the hardware once it became clear that the goal was in hand because the goal itself had nothing after the accomplishment.

    The “battle” with the PRC does not seem to be shaping up that way and one can tell it by all our politics and policy related to this competition. The PRC in my view learned all the lessons from the Soviet Union; without a functional and sustaining economy there was no ability to hang on to an Empire.

    So the PRC is busily building an economy that “works” while maintaining their form of government (indeed enhancing it)…and we are very happy to help them do that.

    What you see in this battle is some “one ofs” but not as many with the Soviets. The PRC emphasis on their military is trivial, their space program is a PR stunt that is working at very low levels…mostly what you see the PRC building is infrastructure in both China and in their client states in Africa.

    People like you and Whittington and some others are trying desperatly to shoe horn them into the model of the Soviet Union…but its not working.

    Robert G. Oler

  • I had one more thing to add, I personally found the dismissive speech by Obama and the general feeling among other Americans that going back to the moon is not a big deal, “been there done that” attitude as insulting.

    So did many, including me. However, smart people pay less attention to Obama’s speeches than actual NASA plans and budgets. The new plan is much better than Constellation, and other than not committing to moon first, much more in tune with the Aldridge recommendations for VSE.

  • Comparing Constellation to Space X is not comparing apples to apples. If the only purpose of Constellation was LEO then it would be a much different and scaled down design

    Constellation’s mission was to deliver human crews and equipment to lunar surface, with an architecture that could be scaled up to other mission such as NEO or Mars. Space X systems are designed to deliver human and equipment to LEO, specifically ISS, maybe Bigelow space station. Comparing SpaceX to Constellation is like comparing Gemini to Apollo

    BTW I am in complete support of NASA’s COTs program. NASA needs to focus on human mission beyond LEO, and farm out the more or less routine missions to LEO.

    Cheers,
    Bert

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Gemini
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_program

  • Scott Bass wrote:

    … watching hi def tv being beamed back as China plants there red flag on the moon could possibly wake Americans finally scratch there head and wonder why we are not there …

    Uh, our flags have been there since 1969. All the Chinese will do is be there 50 years after us.

  • amightywind

    So the PRC is busily building an economy that “works” while maintaining their form of government (indeed enhancing it)…and we are very happy to help them do that.

    The US is facing an increasingly truculent China with designs on territorial expansion. India is beset in Kashmir and its northeast, Taiwan of course. Japan. The Yellow Sea. Even such unlikely nations as Vienam look to the US to restrain them. Where possible China supports mayhem against US interests: in North Korea, Iran, Myanmar, Pakistan, Venezuela. Furthermore, they practice a form of nationalist mercantilism that gradually saps the strength of the US economy. After the Wikileaks incident, I am relieved to know that the State Department takes China and Russia as seriously as they do.

    People like you and Whittington and some others are trying desperatly to shoe horn them into the model of the Soviet Union…but its not working.

    Whittington is exactly right. Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. China represents all of the threat of the Soviet Union combined with economic strength. People like you who promote gratuitous sunshine policy make no sense.

    Nothing external can stop China’s long term technological rise. But there is no point in transferring a century’s worth of US aerospace technology to a hostile entity that cannot reproduce it by themselves.

  • Coastal Ron

    amightywind wrote @ December 6th, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    Nothing external can stop China’s long term technological rise.

    Sure there is – stop buying anything made in China.

    Just like Dorothy always had the ability to go home (by clicking her heals), America has always had the ability to restrain China’s economy and bolster our own. But it is the shortsightedness of Americans who have let this happen. Just like with illegal drugs, do you blame the supplier or the consumer?

    Don’t get me wrong, I do buy products that have been made in China (and other countries), and I do think that commerce is the way to ultimately change China for the better. But I don’t focus on the least expensive products, which typically come from China and other low-wage countries, and we do try to support local stores instead of Walmart (wage issues as well as Chinese content).

    Of course another way to look at it is that we have them just where we want them – we have their money, and we’re creating the conditions for eventual democracy. Win Win ;-)

  • common sense

    @GuessWho wrote @ December 5th, 2010 at 8:37 pm

    “Finally, the Dragon capsule is fully operational? It has a LAS?” ETC.

    I did not know you needed all this to service the ISS with cargo. You know they have a contract for cargo not crew right?

  • common sense

    @GuessWho wrote @ December 5th, 2010 at 8:37 pm

    Oh yeah trick question: Do you actually know where the LAS requirement comes from? Do you know why there is no need for escape systems on say 747? Why not on multibillion dollar satellite launchers? Any idea…

  • Dennis Berube

    It seems that most people here simply want a space program that can only reach orbit, and do not want to venture where no man has gone before. Thats sad, the will to explore and seek out new life on distant worlds should be top priority. If the Saturn class of vehicle had persisted, Im sure we would have done much more in the space effort than put a station up. Several Saturn flights could have assembled a huge deep space vehicle and perhaps even Mars would have been reached. Ahhhh the dreams of yester-year. While orbit is important, for many reasons other than private ventures, we still have the necessity to go out into the Solary System. If we dont, there will be no future for mankind. Today we view much of the world from the prospects of global conflict. China doesnt say if they go to war with us, but when. Korea acting up again. Afganistan will the generals are saying we cant win their either. Space affords us hope, where as being locked into combat on Earth does not.

  • Coastal Ron

    Dennis Berube wrote @ December 6th, 2010 at 4:09 pm

    It seems that most people here simply want a space program that can only reach orbit, and do not want to venture where no man has gone before.

    If that is your interpretation, then it is flat wrong.

    I certainly want to get people BEO and exploring space, but I don’t think you understand how expensive it is to do anything in space.

    The Apollo program was a national effort to outdo the USSR, and any science we gleaned from it was a by-product. Once Apollo was done, then there was no big reason to continue going back to the Moon – your tax dollars were needed elsewhere.

    Is the Moon interesting? Does the Moon contain resources that could be usable some day? Yes, but today the Moon is not a priority, and your Congress agrees. If you have a problem with that, go talk to Congress.

    Now maybe you have been confused about the ongoing debate concerning lowering the cost to access space. I certainly have advocated for that to happen first, because otherwise we won’t be able to afford to do meaningful exploration. But that doesn’t mean no one wants to explore.

    If the Saturn class of vehicle had persisted, Im sure we would have done much more in the space effort than put a station up.

    We’ve always had the ability to do more in space, but what we have lacked is the money. If space were more affordable, then we could do more within the 1.5% of the budget NASA is provided. Constellation exceeded that budget box, so it was cancelled, so you should be seeing that as an important lesson.

    You may think that we should go deeper in debt just to satisfy your Moon dreams, but I don’t think most people would agree. If we’re going to expand into space, then it has to be done in an affordable way, and NASA cannot afford to do it by itself – 1.5% of the budget really doesn’t buy that much where space is involved.

    May you’re advocating for higher taxes to fund NASA? Good luck with that… ;-)

  • Ferris Valyn

    Mr. Berube – it only offers us hope if we have systems that allow us to utilize it in a cost effective manner. That means we have GOT to deal with the space access price issue. Delaying that only means we aren’t developing stuff that can help us be in a position to take advantage of the resources space offers.

  • Scott Bass

    The comment about not buying stuff from China should be edited to stop buying anything……There are very few items left to buy that are not made in China, just about everything has at least parts made there.

    As an American I am very sad about the state of affairs, NASA,congress, vision in this country is severely lacking. I am trying to get past the America first feeling although it is hard to set aside patriotism, but the fact remains that most likely the next man on the moon will be Chinese and so we might all do well to think of it as mankind returning to the moon instead of when America might do it. Without a race America may never go and like I said earlier….China will not stop at the moon, Mars is their ultimate destination, a few moon landings under their belt and they will go before America gets off the drawing board.

  • It seems that most people here simply want a space program that can only reach orbit, and do not want to venture where no man has gone before.

    What utter nonsense. If it “seems” that way to you, apparently you haven’t been reading what “most people here” have been writing for comprehension.

    the fact remains that most likely the next man on the moon will be Chinese and so we might all do well to think of it as mankind returning to the moon

    That is not a fact. It is your fantasy. The next man on the moon is most likely to be an American entrepreneur. Not that it would matter in any way if it were Chinese.

  • common sense

    @ Scott Bass wrote @ December 6th, 2010 at 5:14 pm

    “The comment about not buying stuff from China should be edited to stop buying anything……There are very few items left to buy that are not made in China, just about everything has at least parts made there.”

    Sorry but no. There was a time when all was rosy and nice (right?) and people only wanted low prices. Back then not everything was made in China. A lot was made in Japan but it is another story, well not really. Nowadays people want well jobs. Unfortunately a lot of the jobs that used to make “stuff” has moved outside the US, mainly China. So what do we do about it? We build a huge military effort against those who fund our way of life? Is this what we do? Please! Stop the war rumbling mongering nonsense and accept what happened and above all accept that you, and I, are why it happened. It is the first step to healing: Accceptance. No idiotic statement about China invading the Moon to get He3 or dirt will change those facts. It is called reality. The Moon resources argument is senseless. And even assume they actually have such plans, what should we do about it? What? Please provide explanation and solution not an apocalyptic scenario of the end of days for the USA.

    An btw there is an enormous difference between patriotism and nationalism. Patriotism is just fine but when the reasoning starts to border nationalism then it only is a basis for stupidity. Sorry.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patriotism
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nationalism

    Now who the heck cares about who the next “man” will be on the Moon? Please send references and links. What if the next person on the Moon is a woman, does that pause you a problem too? A chinese woman???

    “Mankind” in the current state of the affairs will most certainly not go back to the Moon. Period. Not using Constellation or an Apollo like program.

    Vision is not “severely” lacking. Absolutely not. Maybe a vision that agrees with yours but not “vision”. See the problem is that NASA only is a small drop in the “vision”. Now you might argue about the content of the “vision” but it certainly is not lacking.

  • Egad

    > stop buying anything made in China

    Probably not all that relevant, but there was a time back in the 1990s when I got some stuff from the CIA’s Employee Activity Association store — mugs and shot glasses and medallions and such with the CIA seal on them. Care to guess where they were made?

  • Coastal Ron

    Scott Bass wrote @ December 6th, 2010 at 5:14 pm

    The comment about not buying stuff from China should be edited to stop buying anything

    So stop. No one is forcing you to buy foreign goods. Start a trend, be a thought leader on the subject, go door to door to make people aware – just don’t complain unless you are actively doing something about it.

    but the fact remains that most likely the next man on the moon will be Chinese

    Flags and footprints are no threat to us, and China does not have the infrastructure to do anything more. That could change, but they don’t show any interest past putting a simple Soyuz-style mini space station in orbit. In fact, as far as capabilities go, China is probably 4th or 5th down the list for the capabilities it takes to get to the Moon.

    As for interest in the Moon, India is showing the most at this point, so why not be “afraid” of them?

  • Robert G. Oler

    amightywind wrote @ December 6th, 2010 at 1:17 pm


    The US is facing an increasingly truculent China with designs on territorial expansion.

    truculent China yes, territorial ambitions in terms of military conquest no. Thats simply right wing attempts to fit the Chinese growth as a power into a Soviet or Germany (WW2 Germany) model, the model that they have tried to fit every conflict since ww2 into.

    The Chinese have learned from Ivan (and from the US actually) that military efforts are simply resource wasters. The Chinese have watched the US bleed from adventures in Afland and Iraq with little or nothing to show for it, and certainly less then they are getting for almost no Dollars (and they are dollars) in the Sudan and other parts of Africa. The only thing more expensive then a superpower military is actually using it…and that expense makes just about everything else seem cheap.

    There is no reason to imagine that they want “North Korea” or the territory that it controls; a more prudent guess is taht they would love South Korea to have to pick up the bill for “fixing the North” after the Norths regime goes away…why should they (the PRC) spend their dollars to do it, when the South Koreans can have a lot of their industrial output channeled toward doing it. (it lessens the competition).

    China is rising as a technological power, but oddly enough it is doing it just as we did in the Depression era. They are building a lot of infrastructure which is designed to support a “modern” society while we are stuck with tea party idiots who want to tear up paved roads and extend the tax cuts so we have to borrow from China.

    The entire notion of a Chinese race to the Moon is fiction. They are hoping that the US will spend borrow and exhaust itself doing just that.

    Its cold war era thinking in a brand new world

    Robert G. Oler

  • While people try to frighten us with a non-existent Red Menace to justify spending hundreds of billions of dollars to get more Moon rocks, I want to pass along this link to the press kit for the SpaceX COTS-1 demo flight:

    http://www.spacex.com/downloads/cots1-20101206.pdf

    Tuesday’s launch has been postponed while they decide what to do about a 3″ inch crank in the nozzle of an upper stage engine, but it sounds like it’ll only be a couple days. They may simply ship a spare part from California.

  • Scott Bass

    Don’t confuse my statements with others….I was saying that we might have to put aside our thoughts of America being the leader in space and being happy that mankind is going back , whether it is china, India or anyone else.

    As misguided as constellation may have been, at least the end game was America Exploring the moon mars and beyond. my hopes for that in my lifetime now rest with other countries, I know longer believe the United States has the will

  • Robert G. Oler

    We are losing a race to China, not a race to the Moon for resources that are not usable now…but in a race to maintain our status as a sovereign nation.

    http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2024065,00.html

    “There is a visceral sense that the financial community’s fundamental purpose has been perverted. It has made a killing off the death of American manufacturing; it has drained our best young minds away from industry and into the creation of new financial products that, as Paul Volcker has said, haven’t added anything to our GDP. Indeed, a story Volcker told me haunted the entire road trip. It happened back in the 1980s, at the beginning of the mergers-and-acquisitions frenzy. A recent Ph.D. in aeronautical engineering from Princeton approached Volcker and asked him which Wall Street firm he should go to work for. “Why don’t you go to work for Boeing?” Volcker asked. The young man replied that he could start at $50,000 per year at Boeing, on a career track that might reach $90,000. “I can make that overnight on Wall Street,” he said. A generation of such decisions has diverted America’s smartest young people from making new products to making new deals.”

    Robert G. Oler

  • Robert G. Oler

    Stephen C. Smith wrote @ December 6th, 2010 at 9:34 pm

    That might be what they do…but I also liked their thinking that they just trim the skirt…or heck take it off!

    thats fine engineering

    Robert G. Oler

  • Ferris Valyn

    Mr. Bass

    I suggest you pay closer attention – the end goal of commercial & US spaceflight is much greater than moon, mars, & beyond

    And now it may actually have a chance at success

  • common sense

    @ Scott Bass wrote @ December 6th, 2010 at 9:47 pm

    There was no “end” game with Constellation. It was going nowhere and nowhere it went. It was not sustainable. No “end” game. Sorry.

  • Coastal Ron

    Scott Bass wrote @ December 6th, 2010 at 9:47 pm

    As misguided as constellation may have been, at least the end game was America Exploring the moon mars and beyond.

    So any misguided program that has the Moon or Mars as it’s goal is OK to throw money at? I have a Moon plan you should invest in… ;-)

    But seriously, the goal has not changed, only the name of the program that is going to do it. Constellation was not going to reach the moon until the 2030′s, and then only for flags & footprints. The new NASA plan (as authorized by Congress) works on the Earth-to-LEO segment that Ares I was being built for, but does it by spending far less money.

    Once the Earth-to-LEO transportation is in place, then going anywhere beyond LEO becomes that much easier. Everyone at NASA has said that the Moon, NEO’s and beyond are still the goal, but people like you don’t seem to hear. Why?

    It’s almost like it’s “if it’s not Constellation, then we’re never doing it”. Weird.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Rand Simberg wrote @ December 6th, 2010 at 5:59 pm
    The next man on the moon is most likely to be an American entrepreneur.

    possible..but an equally likely scenario is that the next “person” on the Moon is a US government employee (or military officer) who is commanding a Lewis and Clarke style expedition, where almost everything to go to the Moon is either acquired off the shelf or modified from in use hardware at a pretty reasonable cost.

    My belief right now is that Lunar exploration (and other exploration of celestial bodies) by humans is going to follow a South Pole analogy post WW2 more then anything else..

    but the scenario you mention works as well.

    it wont be an Apollo style effort by ANY nation….on that we agree.

    Robert G. Oler

  • DCSCA

    Rand Simberg wrote @ December 6th, 2010 at 5:59 pm

    “The next man on the moon is most likely to be an American entrepreneur.”

    Talk about a ‘fantasy.’ Entrapreneurs have never led the way in rocket development or space exploration over the 80 year history of the technology chiefly due to the immense costs. That’s why governments do it- and will continue to do it for years to come. And given the United States’ deficits, it most likely will be the Chinese who return humans to the moon, not Americans. They can afford it. Americans cannot. And no American entrapreneur has even successfully orbited the earth and returned safely in their own privately funded launch vehicle or spacecraft and you have them voyaging to the moon — ahead of the Chinese no less, who still represent a communist/socialist state. Quite the fantasy speculation on your part– not unlike a made-for-TV pilot from the early 1970′s titled ‘Salvage One,’ when an ‘American entrapreneur’ — a junkman– funded a voyage to the moon to pick through Apollo trash for cash. Dream on, fella.

  • DCSCA

    Robert G. Oler wrote @ December 6th, 2010 at 11:33 am
    Nah. If they’d stamped out six or eight Saturns a year for 40 years– or what ever the optimum production scheduling fit the budget and need, the costs would have been minimum. And over time, engineering and electronics improvements would have ehnanced vehicle performance. The Russians have been stamping out their vehicles for years and they work fine, as their objective has always been is to get you there in a VW, not a Caddy.

  • Anne Spudis

    Boy! Just read this thread.

    As a place no one should be bothered with (according to so many “experts”), the Moon certainly is on everyone’s lips (fingertips)!

    The twisting, the spinning the dismissing, the insulting.

    My, my, my.

    There must be something important about lunar return and cislunar development to create so much smoke and so many mirrors.

    And contrary to what is sticking in so many craws (the practicality and importance of the Moon for space development and access), lunar return is not a dead end but rather where space will open up.

    By continually denouncing lunar return, by shutting your eyes and your ears about anything having to do with resource development on the Moon, you are impeding and blocking your own path to your chosen destinations.

  • Dennis Berube

    Moon dreams? Since when has exploration and expansion of the human condition become a dream? I do agree space MUST be made more affordable if we are to get out there. Problem is, I dont see the commercial side lessening the cost load either. Fifty mil. a pop, is hardly cost reduction. Until science can think out side of the box, standard rocket tech. will remain high.

  • Dennis Berube

    As to China utilizing the Soyuz design, didnt Russia actually help them in the beginning? We of course would not have. This made it easier for them to follow and now they have made their own modifications to that design.

  • GuessWho

    Common Sense wrote – “I did not know you needed all this to service the ISS with cargo. You know they have a contract for cargo not crew right?”

    Yes. Try to remember that the next time you compare Dragon to Orion. Oler, and others including yourself, still seem to have a problem differentiating the two when comparing capability, performance, schedule, and cost. Right now, Dragon isn’t anything more than HTV or ATV. Even less. At least those two have flown and delivered cargo to ISS.

  • Dennis Berube

    Maybe our illustrious leaders are waiting for Dragons first flight before finally deciding on which route to take with regards to spaceflight. If it succeeds, private gets more money, if not, they dont, and NASA gets the go ahead for its HLV, and Orion!

  • Maybe our illustrious leaders are waiting for Dragons first flight before finally deciding on which route to take with regards to spaceflight.

    If so, that would be quite stupid.

  • Robert G. Oler

    DCSCA wrote @ December 7th, 2010 at 5:30 am

    Robert G. Oler wrote @ December 6th, 2010 at 11:33 am
    Nah. If they’d stamped out six or eight Saturns a year for 40 years– or what ever the optimum production scheduling fit the budget and need, the costs would have been minimum………

    thats the problem…there was no “need” hence there was no program.

    Robert G. Oler

  • Coastal Ron

    GuessWho wrote @ December 7th, 2010 at 7:52 am

    Try to remember that the next time you compare Dragon to Orion. Oler, and others including yourself, still seem to have a problem differentiating the two when comparing capability, performance, schedule, and cost. Right now, Dragon isn’t anything more than HTV or ATV.

    Dragon Cargo does fulfill a similar function to HTV/ATV. Of course Dragon, which was developed as part of the $600M SpaceX has spent so far, is real hardware sitting on a real rocket. SpaceX has also stated that it would cost $300M to add crew capability, and then they would charge $20/seat. That’s about $1B for two launchers and one crew capable capsule.

    Orion (or now MPCV) is still not fully defined, and earlier this year Lockheed Martin said it would take $4.5B+ in order to finish it. Because of it’s design, it’s not appropriate or cost effective for ISS crew duty, although it certainly has that capability.

    As I recall, this discussion started because you stated:

    It has a LAS? It has life support? It can perform autonomous (or semi-autonomous) rendezvous and prox-ops?

    And others reminded you that Dragon is cargo only at this point, so no LAS is needed. Regarding the other points you raised, the answer would be “Yes”, but that as part of their incremental testing plan, not all of those capabilities will be tested on this first flight.

    Did you complain when Apollo didn’t land anybody on the Moon until Apollo 11? It’s the same thing, in that NASA did not plan for Dragon to dock at the ISS until flight #3 because they need to demonstrate everything works first.

    Honestly, some people have forgotten the purpose of testing programs…

  • Dennis Berube

    If Dragon falls into the Atlantic, instead of making orbit, or if it makes orbit but doesnt return, all the money that NASA has spent to forward its progress will me wasted. What 200 mil. or something. Now I only hope for the best, but in the end if SpaceX runs a pricey tag per seat, nothing will have been gained. If they can keep it at a reduced price per seat, then it will have worked. Time will tell. As to the government waiting to see what happens, while it may be stupid, havent they done alot of stupid things here lately?????

  • common sense

    @ GuessWho wrote @ December 7th, 2010 at 7:52 am

    “Try to remember that the next time you compare Dragon to Orion. ”

    Hm. Yeah well success or failure Dragon will fly pretty soon. Orion? Hmm yeah well I’ll make sure I remember when I compare next where Orion sits on the floor somewhere in a hangar half-built to half-ready specs. Your problem is you compare what Orion might have been to an actual Dragon. Ah if we could have 45% of GDP boy we’d be racing rovers on the surface of Mars! Just this tiny little detail…

    Oh well…

  • common sense

    @ Anne Spudis wrote @ December 7th, 2010 at 5:47 am

    You know you keep repeating ad nauseam that people are against the Moon etc. This is unbelievable. All people (like me anyway) are telling you, really telling you, is that the first, FIRST, numero uno, step is not the Moon. It is routine LEO operations in order to reduce the cost. Then we can talk about Moon, NEOs, Mars, empty void of space. You should try and understand that, I mean really hard try to understand that. Because if you’ve ever managed anything you ought to know that the number one priority is to have the minimum possible cost to anything. And yes it is applicable to private endeavors as well as to public ones.

    What is it that’s so hard to understand? Why don’t you support it instead of roaring claims about the Moon first nonsense that WILL NOT happen anyway because of its cost! Please make an effort. Join us and help us win this for HSF. All this grandiose speaking about the Moon only is detrimental to HSF. No one, NO ONE, believes it. Can’t you see this?

  • Scott Bass

    As much as I enjoy technical discussions and political aspects, Everyone that reads my post should understand that the moon to me is an affair of the heart, I deeply want us to be there living and working, as a mankind, I note this because we you think with your heart about something then you are bound to be unrealistic sometimes, I have made many statements in the past and will probably continue in the future that don’t add up, economically or politically. I hate vague goals, I want leadership that stands up and says, we are going by so and so date..make it happen, marching orders so to speak. What I want and love does not fit the reality of the situation and so I am sad. I really do wish China would be more determined and public about a lunar base with time lines, it would make me very happy. I know it would not spark a race but It would unite congress to ensure America at least would be there too, the debate would change if we knew for a fact china was going to have a permanent colony on the moon in 20 years or sooner. But that is my heart talking once more……I continue to be wrong alot when speaking of our space program. I believe in human exploration just for the sake of human exploration….that is obviously not enough to justify the expense for alot of people

  • common sense

    @ Dennis Berube wrote @ December 7th, 2010 at 6:21 am

    “As to China utilizing the Soyuz design, didnt Russia actually help them in the beginning? We of course would not have. This made it easier for them to follow and now they have made their own modifications to that design.”

    Well, I believe (note the verb believe) that it actually is a little more complicated than that. I heard of US involvement but then again it may only be hear-say.

    But in any case it made financial sense to go with the Soyuz design. How expensive would it be to recreate an Apollo one? Just ask Constellation/Orion.

    And the Soyuz design is great especially for reentry and land-landing, much better so than the Apollo one. It is a good example of russian rugged design vs. US high-tech design. One is simple and works pretty much all the time, does not have all the great “performance” though. The other one has great performance but is difficult to handle and has safety issues more difficult to overcome.

    FWIW.

  • Rhyolite

    GuessWho wrote @ December 7th, 2010 at 7:52 am

    “Right now, Dragon isn’t anything more than HTV or ATV.”

    Neither HTV or ATV have a down mass capability. Also, ATV does not have an upressurized cargo capability.

  • common sense

    @ Scott Bass wrote @ December 7th, 2010 at 12:24 pm

    Passion and heart are needed but in your case they are misguided. You want to be effective then learn how to lead your passion to be constructive based on reality and facts. Facts are always subject to interpretation, human nature, but facts they remain. Do it and you may help your cause. Otherwise you are detrimental to your cause.

  • Vladislaw

    Talk about a ‘fantasy.’ Entrapreneurs have never led the way in rocket development or space exploration over the 80 year history of the technology chiefly due to the immense costs.”

    They have not been afraid of immense costs, they have been locked out with the 1967 outer space treaty that made it hands off for commercial ownership. Why has GEO been “settled” by satellites? Because orbital slots can be basically “owned”. Instead of a land grant you get an orbital slot grant. Having an orbital slot locked up by your business is why they keep coming back. Do you think this would have occured if someone could just keep shoveling satellites into your slot?

  • If Dragon falls into the Atlantic, instead of making orbit, or if it makes orbit but doesnt return, all the money that NASA has spent to forward its progress will me wasted.

    What utter nonsense. Are you completely unaware of the concept of a flight test program?

  • Coastal Ron

    Dennis Berube wrote @ December 7th, 2010 at 12:02 pm

    If Dragon falls into the Atlantic, instead of making orbit, or if it makes orbit but doesnt return, all the money that NASA has spent to forward its progress will me wasted.

    If SpaceX ended it’s participation in the COTS/CRS program, then maybe you could say that, but otherwise I echo Rands comments to you above.

    I guess you don’t read up much on these topics before posting, because otherwise you would know that Elon Musk has offered up what he thinks the odds are for a successful mission, starting with a successful launch, and ending with a successful recovery of the Dragon capsule. He estimates the overall mission success percentage at 60%, and I’m sure NASA is quite aware of the historic success rate of new vehicles. If they didn’t think there was a chance for failure, they wouldn’t be doing the testing. Weird comment.

    Besides, NASA actually only “loses” $5M to SpaceX if this test meets it’s milestones, because that is how much the milestone is worth. Not much risk for NASA, which means it’s not much risk for us taxpayers – the system works.

  • Rhyolite

    Dennis Berube wrote @ December 7th, 2010 at 12:02 pm

    “If Dragon falls into the Atlantic, instead of making orbit, or if it makes orbit but doesnt return, all the money that NASA has spent to forward its progress will me wasted.”

    There is no reason to believe that the first launch of a MPCV/SLS will have a higher probably of sucess than the first Dragon flight. Failure rates are high for new space systems and throwing money at the probem only yeilds marginal improvements in success rate.

  • Frank Glover

    “We goofed when we allowed the government to cancel the Saturn 5.”

    “My comment on the Saturn class of vehicle, is that if we had sustained it, we would quite probably have a base on the Moon by now.”

    Never forget, we stopped making the Saturn 5, because we stopped doing the things that (we believed) required it…NOT, NOT, NOT the other way around.

    (Same for NERVA development, at that time. No more plans for Mars or major post-Apollo where it would have been of value, no clear reason to continue with it.)

    You don’t keep that production line open and *hope* there will be work for them at the end. (and ‘warehousing’ something like those would be most…interesting) I’ve walked around one of the two once flight-ready Saturn 5s (at JSC) that were built but never flown, because their specific intended missions were canceled, and they were given nothing else.

    Sustain it? We did not even use up the Saturns we had.

    Those lawn ornaments should tell you something about how much the mere existence and availability of a heavy-lift rocket, is necessarily a driver of missions and projects for them…

  • DCSCA

    @Rand Simberg wrote @ December 7th, 2010 at 2:54 pm

    Actually, you seem ill-prepared for how failure is greeted in the free market. As Von Braun often noted, failure is a great educator presenting an opportunities to learn. But then, his failures were paid for by governments which could absord costly losses, unlike the profit-centered free market. Yes, Cernan was correct- ‘… they don’t know what they don’t know yet.’ But they’ll be learning it fast. For SpaceX, as Kranz once said, ‘failure is not an option.’ When they fly, they must succeed. The last thing SpaceX needs now is to drop a flaming Dragon into the sea. Nobody who believes in and supports spaceflight, from which ever point of the compass you come from, wants to see them fail.

  • Yes, Cernan was correct- ‘… they don’t know what they don’t know yet.’ But they’ll be learning it fast. For SpaceX, as Kranz once said, ‘failure is not an option.’

    Repeating mindless cliches just makes you look more like an idiot than usual.

  • Rhyolite

    DCSCA wrote @ December 7th, 2010 at 8:03 pm

    “Actually, you seem ill-prepared for how failure is greeted in the free market.”

    The failure rate of new launch vehicles is fully anticipated by the market. Launch prices are adjusted accordingly (downward) as are insurance premiums (upwards).

  • DCSCA

    @Rand Simberg wrote @ December 7th, 2010 at 11:12 pm Surprised you emote with such shrill, shill, sensitivities to the possibility of a failure. Your fears are understandable. A flaming Dragon plunging into the sea would be a setback. The free market can be cruel. But then, that didn’t stop government funded space projects which faced more daunting odds of success, particularly when lofting pioneering crewed spacecraft, which Dragon will not be.

  • DCSCA

    @Rhyolite wrote @ December 8th, 2010 at 12:10 am
    Point is, a loss of vehicle will chill efforts at expanding the investor base. But then, if/when this new tax plan goes through, millionaires will have a lot of extra capital to invest in start-up rocket companies, instead of gold utures or oil wells, won’t they.

  • Vladislaw

    I don’t believe it was a flaming dragon plunging into the sea. So I don’t think the chill will be happening as soon as you projected.

  • Scott Bass

    Common Sense, I have the knowledge, however their currently is no sound science reason to argue for a moon base, so the lofty words of exploration for explorations sake is the only argument that holds water, which unfortunately is not enough, people will be arguing about this next decade just like they did last, and the decade before that and so on

  • common sense

    @ Scott Bass wrote @ December 8th, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    Not necessarily. You should see the debate take a different form. Hopefully and after today all bets are off the Moon will be explored and exploited by private enterprises, US enterprises. Today showed the spirit will claim for the USA. Some have just completely lost the notion that the USA builds its strength on its entrepreneurial spirit and even if every day is gloom now there is hope, HOPE. http://www.spacex.com

  • DCSCA

    SpaceX FLEW NOBODY INTO SPACE today. In fact, they orbited an empty can. And you’re chattering on about private enterprised lunarnauts exploring the moon? Get real.

    Dragon splashed down off the coast of Mexico, far south of SpaceX ‘s Southern California facilities in the Los Angeles suburb off Hawthorne. The bulk of the actual flight data from the spacecraft’s on-orbit performance remains unknown as well at the time of this posting so the public– and the investor class– really have no clear idea of knowing if Dragon is a gem– or a deathtrap, other than the spin from commercial space advocates, their shills and SpaceX’s own press releases.

    Meanwhile, NASA and the Russian space agency have been successfully conducting human spaceflight operations for half a century.

    It’s worth repeating, to date, SpaceX has flown NOBODY.

    Essentially, SpaceX, a ‘commercial’ company, today orbited an empty can from government owned launch facilities at Cape Canaveral, recently refurbished with help from taxpayer stimulus funds for their operations. This might have looked like daring stuff in the cutting edge missile days of the early 1960′s but it’s a relative yawn in 2010, as today’s muted media coverage clearly indicates. In fact, it’s pretty routine these days.

    The company needs on-going government contracts as private sector capital markets remain wary and already know space is a limited and risky market with questionable returns on investment requiring heavy upfront investments. And a quick review of investors associated with SpaceX indicates the pool has not expanded much beyond Musk’s own circle of cronies, although to Musk’s credit, he invests his own fortune in the firm.

    There’s nothing particularly ‘earth-shattering’ about SpaceX duplicating a feat accomplished by NASA 45 years ago. In March, 1965, when the government funded civilian space agency lofted the likes of Gemini 3– it was a new technology then and Gemini 3 carried two astronaut pilots, John Young and Gus Grissom, up and around the planet several times and returned them safely to Earth. The Dragon spacecraft orbited today, as 2010 draws to a close, was unmanned.

    SpaceX has had half a century of successful, government funded human space operations to build upon, not to mention 80-plus years of government funded rocket development as well to draw from. If anything, it should be easier for SpaceX today than it was for the NASA of the early ’60′s.

    The real benchmark for any commercial space venture will be to launch, orbit and return crewed vehicles safely to Earth. Until then, it’s all an exercise of “been there, done that.” Even China is years ahead of SpaceX in that regard, having already orbited and returned crews safely.

    The day a privately funded, crewed, commerical spacecraft is launched, orbited and safely returned to earth is the day the world will truly change for human spaceflight.

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