NASA, White House

John Marburger and his space legacy

Former presidential science advisor John H. Marburger III passed away Thursday at the age of 70. Marburger headed the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) for the full eight years of the George W. Bush Administration, which put him in the middle of many key changes in the nation’s space policy during that time.

For many, though, Marburger is best known for a speech he gave at the 2006 Goddard Memorial Symposium where he offered an economic underpinning for the Vision for Space Exploration. “As I see it, questions about the Vision boil down to whether we want to incorporate the Solar System in our economic sphere, or not,” he said, a phrase that resonated with portions of the space community, particularly those who have supported greater commercial activities in space. In that speech, he advocated for a human return to the Moon in part to utilize its material to support additional space activities. “The greatest value of the Moon lies neither in science nor in exploration, but in its material.” He was also cool to the idea of rushing to Mars, saying that “we do not know how to send humans to Mars and return them safely within a reasonable cost envelope.”

Two years later Marburger gave another speech at the Goddard symposium, where he focused on the need for space exploration to be sustainable over the long haul. “If the architecture of the exploration phase is not crafted with sustainability in mind, we will look back on a century or more of huge expenditures with nothing more to show for them than a litter of ritual monuments scattered across the planets and their moons,” he said.

“I think we are psychologically conditioned to want to model national policy on the highly successful Apollo program, starting with its huge budget,” he noted in that speech. “But the Apollo program was a unique response to a singular set of events at the height of the Cold War. I cannot prove it except by pointing to the history, but it seems that the pace and scale of the Apollo program was unsustainable.”

As it turns out, NASA’s implementation of the Vision for Space Exploration was deemed unsustainable by the Obama Administration less than two years after Marburger’s second Goddard speech, but that warning of not trying to model programs after Apollo lives on in comments like those given just earlier this week by NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver. Will the current administration’s policy, with its greater emphasis on partnering with commercial providers and investing in technology development, be more successful in that goal from Marburger’s 2006 speech of seeking to “incorporate the Solar System in our economic sphere”?

29 comments to John Marburger and his space legacy

  • Robert G. Oler

    Why I knew and correctly predicted that Bush the last “vision” would fail is that it was typical of his administration. Someone, in this case JM had a good idea and a good notion of how to change the future; making the solar system a part of our economy. bush would make a OK speech (A Frum moment…Frum is now hated by the right wing) and then turn it over to idiots for execution.

    This is why the most powerful military in the world floundered in Iraq and why we spent 12-15 billion on Cx and got absolutely nothing.

    Now of course the circle is complete. After the administration the dolts who screwed things up (in this case Griffin) are running around saying “wow it wasnt my fault, its the fault of the guy who failed to fix things”…

    And of course the Bush toadies like Whittington and Wind jump all over that.

    In the end I dont think going back to the Moon had much value for a space fairing power at our state of technology…but the argument can hardly be that it could not have been done “better”.

    But the weakness here is that the program was like SLS has become…it really didnt matter what it did, it had to do it will ALL the same players and people that the shuttle had tagged along. That is the pork part of it. My guess is that although he is basically incompetent (something I said in a SpaceNews Op ed shortly after Griffin had his Meet The Press appearance) the reality is that Griffin had a bad hand.

    The program had only solid political support as long as it kept all the players…

    God Speed to John. A man truly with a vision and the ability to say what he thought and back it up with good arguments.

    RGO

  • Doug Lassiter

    With regard to incorporating the solar system into our economic sphere, one wonders if Marburger may have come to realize that encouragement of commercial was sort of doing just that. Commercial entities are, from the perspective of a traditionally federally-centered space program, in the far reaches of our space-economic solar system. Reaching out to them, and bringing them into our space-economic sphere is challenging, and perhaps risky, but could significantly contribute to the economy of our nation. Building that kind of approach to space could lead to a program that is highly sustainable, especially in that it drives decision making about space investment away from Congress. This might also avoid the litter of ritual monuments, of which Constellation has already contributed a few.

  • Coastal Ron

    Marburger said “As I see it, questions about the Vision boil down to whether we want to incorporate the Solar System in our economic sphere, or not,

    I think he was taking an expanse view of our future, and he hit the nail on the head. Space is a frontier that in some ways is no different than the other frontiers we have settled here on Earth. More harsh maybe, and more capital intensive, but a frontier nonetheless.

    And it seems like most space groups incorporate his sentiments into their own goals, since part of their justifications tend to use resource extraction and utilization into their plans.

    The real challenge gets back to the economic model that we use to do our expansion, and that’s where he also got it right when he talked about sustainability. We’re not going to be able to expand very far out into space if it’s going to be 100% on the back of NASA’s ever decreasing budget. That’s just a fact.

    In talking about this, it occurs to me that those that argue for government-only space activity really don’t have a vision of the future that includes humans occupying the solar system. Visiting maybe, but not occupying. They seem to be more focused on picking up rocks on the Moon or Mars, but just like kids in a car asking “are we there yet?”, they don’t know what it takes to get there, to build a sustainable economy that can get us out into space and keep us there.

    It’s a pity really, in that with the limited money that NASA has NASA could be going out further and faster with commercial support than if they do with the SLS (i.e. government approach). But I do think that once the COTS program is successfully completed, that there will be less resistance to the CCDev program, and once that produces two or more commercial crew carriers the mindset will finally change towards NASA having to use it’s own BFR’s for space exploration.

    Given time, capitalism wins.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Doug Lassiter wrote @ July 30th, 2011 at 11:18 am

    There are two aspects to “commercializing” space.

    The first is to change the relationship of industry to government programs back to something more approximating the relationship it had during WW2 and up to say oh the 1980′s…where the MIC and government agencies were not simply “one”.

    The second is to try and come up with some commercial applications that come from having humans in space.

    both could have been done with Bush’s policy. Griffin cut the legs out from both. RGO

  • amightywind

    Will the current administration’s policy, with its greater emphasis on partnering with commercial providers and investing in technology development, be more successful in that goal from Marburger’s 2006 speech of seeking to “incorporate the Solar System in our economic sphere”?

    Oh my gosh! Who to you think was building Ares but commercial providers? No policy of this lunatic band of Bolsheviks will survive after 2012. Marburger’s goal my yet be realized.

  • Mark R. Whittington

    Of course the Obama administration abandoning the Moon and its resources would seem to be at odds with Marburger’s vision. It i svery clear that the current president used the excuse of “sustainability” to kill space exploration, since Constellation was no where near the cost of Apollo.

  • Mark R. Whittington

    By the way, reading the latter speech in context, it is clear that Marburger is taking a swipe at the “On to Mars” folks and was not attacking Constellation.

  • Robert G. Oler

    amightywind wrote @ July 30th, 2011 at 12:30 pm

    “Oh my gosh! Who to you think was building Ares but commercial providers? ”

    you are the guy who thought the Falcon 9 second stage was spinning out of control so it doesnt surprise me that you think that the folks building Ares were “commercial”…goofy RGO

  • DCSCA

    “…but that warning of not trying to model programs after Apollo lives on in comments like those given just earlier this week by NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver”

    Ms. Garver’s dismissal from NASA is long overdue.

    @Coastal Ron wrote @ July 30th, 2011 at 12:08 pm
    “Given time, capitalism wins.”

    ROFLMAOPIP. In fact, it has been given plenty of time. Nearly a century, and has been decidely reactive, not proactive, never ‘winning’ but simply cashing in where it could.

    Over the 80-plus years of modern rocketry, it has been governments which have led the way in this field, not for profit, private, ‘free enterprise.’ Witness Goddard. When ‘capitalists’ had the opportunity, they balked at backing him while in the same era Von Braun’s research flourished, nurtured by German government funding- and the military at that. It has been governments in various guises which have propelled this relatively new technology forward, not for profit free enterprise. When the ‘space race’ began, and ‘free enterprise’ capitalists had the chance to step up, meet the challenge and lead the way, they balked again, letting government carry the load of a high risk venture, socializing it on the backs of the taxpayers, then cashing in where they could in the wake of Apollo’s success.

    And right now, the winners are the folks left standing, like the PRC, Russia, etc. Private sectored ‘capitalists,’ profiteers playing at rocketeers, have not launched, orbited and safely returned anyone. But then, maybe that is how you calibrate being a winner.

  • VirgilSamms

    There is no economic sphere in space. No profit to be made until vast governmental resources have launched the HLV’s and built the off world colonies. Only when all this is done despite the profit motive, can commerce even BEGIN.

    “I cannot prove it except by pointing to the history, but it seems that the pace and scale of the Apollo program was unsustainable.”

    ”I think people overestimate the power of government to affect science,” he told The New York Times in 2004. ”Science has so many self-correcting aspects that I’m not really worried about these things.”

    I have to disagree with Bush’s democrat science adviser. His defense of the Bush regime as not waging a war on science is probably not something his ancestors will be proud of. His musing on the self-correcting aspect of science was……..vague.

    Apollo was of course completely sustainable. The reason it was not was the Vietnam war and the competition it represented for the military industrial complex.

    As I have commented before- the DOD is the real enemy, not any ridiculous portrayal of NASA as being the root of all evil.

    A space industrial complex would accomplish colonization and defend the Earth from the threat of impact. The problem is that space is hard money- Space flight is inherently expensive because the hardware has to work. Cold war toys are easy money.

    Space capitalism will not work until there is something out there besides space.

    We are all going where Dr. Marburger has gone. Hopefully there will be a future for the human race yet to be born- and not a dead end courtesy of Reaganomics.

  • DCSCA

    @Coastal Ron wrote @ July 30th, 2011 at 12:08 pm
    Marburger said “As I see it, questions about the Vision boil down to whether we want to incorporate the Solar System in our economic sphere, or not.”

    Imagine goldfish in their tiny bowl looking out at the vast universe confronting them- the deadly air-filled world beyond the glass sphere; the equally deadly vaccum far above, where the sun, the moon and stars dwell. Then pondering the damp question of, “whether we want to incorporate the Solar System in our economic sphere, or not.” In other words, how can we incorporate it all into our mealworm universe in this fishbowl.

    Marburger had it utterly and totally backwards. R.I.P.

  • DCSCA

    @VirgilSamms wrote @ July 30th, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    Well said.

  • tom

    The US Gov. is not partnering with commercial interest for exploring space, we’re walking away form it. If we lost the space station today what would the mission be? Why would NASA fund COTS? No station, no mission, no money. What would be the business case for commercial space be after ISS is gone in 2020 or so. Someone please list all the commercial (external to NASA needs) space projects that are funded, with a customer and viable. Existing space created the market (a single market – crew and cargo). The NACA is not the right model for NASA. NASA is an exploration agency for the American people. If it’s not, we should no fly a single mission to any point in the solar system (crewed or unmanned). Let the commercial firms fly robotic missions to Mars and telescopes to orbit. They can sell the services to universities, the public and private firms.

  • VirgilSamms

    @DCSCA , 2:03

    An analogy that actually has some meaning. This may be a first for Space Politics.

    Thank you and well said also.

  • E.P. Grondine

    Hi RGO –

    Jeff deleted my comments on W., but in doing so he also deleted my key question.

    You have never laid out ATK’s specific actions in all of this. Would you care to briefly summarize, or provide a reason why you do not want to?

  • E.P. Grondine

    I remember hearing Marburger propose a large telescope on the Moon in a public presentation he gave at the Air and Space Museum. I asked him a few questions about it afterwards. I wonder if they recorded his talk.

  • Coastal Ron

    VirgilSamms wrote @ July 30th, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    Apollo was of course completely sustainable.

    I guess you feel the term “sustainable” means keep spending money regardless of the other national priorities?

    But you also forget the charter of the Apollo program, which was “before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.

    We did that. Program complete. What you are suggesting, in keeping the Apollo production line going, is that of a replacement program. That’s fine to propose, as I’m sure many did, but the government didn’t see it as a priority. Cry all you want, but your elected officials decided to do something different. I’m sure it’s not the only disappointment you’ve had in life…

    the competition it represented for the military industrial complex

    I don’t think Boeing cares what their government customers use their products for, just as long as they are making their profit goals. So in that case they don’t care if it’s rockets or airplanes, which makes your theory disproved.

    Space capitalism will not work until there is something out there besides space.

    I guess you’re unaware of the space economy that already exists? Satellite TV, satellite radio, satellite communications, commercial surveillance? Geosynchronous orbit is pretty crowded, and getting more so. What do you think supports most of the launch service providers around the world?

    Adding crew services leverages part of the infrastructure of what is already in use with the satellite industry, as well as the cargo systems supporting the ISS (Progress, ATV, HTV, and the upcoming Dragon and Cynus).

    You just need to open your eyes to see what the world is already doing.

  • Coastal Ron

    DCSCA wrote @ July 30th, 2011 at 2:03 pm

    Imagine goldfish in their tiny bowl looking out at the vast universe confronting them…

    I guess that analogy defines the difference between us.

    You see yourself as the goldfish, helpless to control your environment.

    I see myself, as well as most of the human race, as a species that is able to control our environments, and thrive in places were not born into.

    It’s the classic “you see limits where I see opportunities” observation. Of course your kind of thinking would not have lead to spaceflight at all, since you would have been too scared to leave your fishbowl. That’s OK, but don’t blame others for having the courage you don’t.

  • Coastal Ron

    tom wrote @ July 30th, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    If we lost the space station today what would the mission be?

    What if space aliens landed in your front yard? You want to talk about theoretical situations, or what’s going on today? Make up your mind…

    As it so happens we do have the ISS in orbit, and it does need to be supplied with cargo and crew, so how do we do that? Cargo is just about put in place with the last two of five cargo systems (Dragon and Cygnus), but we don’t have a clear path to crew yet.

    Sure we have the CCDev program going, and there is a general idea when everyone thinks NASA will have funding for commercial crew services, but there is no RFQ for ISS crew services yet – no government contract. And no guarantee there will be with the current Congress, so who knows how long we’ll be using the Russians.

    So despite the desire of many to use American companies to transport crew to the ISS, so far Congress is satisfied with Russia doing it. I’d like it to be different, but that’s the way it is.

  • vulture4

    Was Marburger asleep for 8 years? He says in 2008 that the Apollo approach was justified only by the Cold War, after remaining in the Bush Administration for eight years while the reusable vehicle program and the Shuttles were trashed, and all our resources wasted on Apollo on Steroids. If he believed what he said he should have resigned in protest. If he only discovered in 2008, that Constellation was a mistake he should have called for its cancellation. We can’t blame this train wreck on Griffin alone; Marburger backed him 100%: IMHO they were both incompetent.

    Bush Science Chief: Griffin Is Solution to NASA Human Space Flight “Gap” http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewnews.html?id=1018

  • E.P. Grondine

    My apologies to all. It was Bush Snr’s science advisor who gave that talk.

  • DCSCA

    @Coastal Ron wrote @ July 30th, 2011 at 3:28 pm
    Amusing you’d assume you, among the fellow fishes, were above them all in the analogy. But like the moon and stars, the analogy is way, way far over your head– and, of course, the absurdity of assuming you, born within a thin shell of gas clinging to a tiny speck, to exist for a blink of time in galactic metrics amidst the vastness, channels all of the infinite universe into a destiny of frozen fishsticks for quarterly profits is just hilarious.

    It’s the classic “you see limits where I see opportunities” observation.
    Uh, no, it’s the classic ‘you don’t see the forest for the trees… but there’s money in toothpicks.’

  • Bennett

    vulture4 wrote @ July 30th, 2011 at 6:33 pm

    Quality link, thanks.

    RIP, but still.

  • Vladislaw

    Vulture4, from that article:

    “And as far as the 2010-2014 gap is concerned, “Mike Griffin thinks he can eliminate this gap.” Marburger also reminded this writer that the administration would not seek to micromanage Griffin-or any other agency head-in how they ran their agencies.

    “The President gives these (agency heads) wide latitude in how they arrange their resources” to accomplish their missions, Marburger explained. “We don’t micromanage them.” “

    Someone should have been micromanaging Dr. Griffin from the start. He should have been forced to follow President Bush’s Vision for Space Exploration and started COTS – D. If he had been funding it, starting in 2005, when he was supposed to the Nation would already have commercial access to the ISS, or a hell of a lot closer to flight then anything Constellation did.

  • Robert G. Oler

    E.P. Grondine wrote @ July 30th, 2011 at 2:47 pm

    Hi RGO –

    “You have never laid out ATK’s specific actions in all of this.”

    Hello…not sure the context here but if you are referring to the Cx systems architecture and ATK’s role in it.

    ATK has an amazing lobbying operation for one reason, there were (now there is one) senior senators who were very very powerful committed to ATK’s success and the entire “UTAH” political machine was geared to it as well…why?

    The great “charade” If you will is the BS that red states go through on federal spending. The notion is really that federal spending is bad…except when it is spent in a red state on something that “makes” the state or local area succeed beyond the possibilities of local dollars…and then it is good.

    Particularly in most red states, because they are so poor drop a federal installation or major federal contract into the area and the area blooms…particularly today.

    Federal jobs and the jobs created by serious federal contracts are some of the best jobs going. They have pay scales and benefits which use to be common but as “red state” economic theories have moved into private corporations they are less and less “real”.

    So in an area like Utah where there is really “nothing” the choice is a binary solutions et. Work at “Utah ski and resort” where the benes are low and the hours long…work at ATK which has federal dollars flowing into it and the salary is good, the benes good and the hours all time card. Which do you think is a better job or which pumps more into the local economy?

    Clear Lake TX today would have probably dedveloped anyway (like the Woodlands or other areas around Houston TX) as a bedroom community) but I am just old enough to have pictures of the area before JSC or then the Manned Spaceflight Center…and it was no where. Pump lots of federal dollars in…instant city.

    The SRB’s are a big chunk of ATK…you do the math.

    It is something to remember when you hear “we want a government that lives within its means” just as long as that includes spending money where we are! RGO

  • Robert G. Oler

    Vladislaw wrote @ July 31st, 2011 at 12:03 am

    “Someone should have been micromanaging Dr. Griffin from the start. He should have been forced to follow President Bush’s Vision for Space Exploration and started COTS – D.”

    Griffin’s veers off course did not require “micro” managing to see or correct. I have the op ed from SpaceNews which points out how his move to a Ares/Orion system was the end of the “Vision” and a start on the road to failure.

    That BTW was soundly beat up on on this forum.

    What I dont know and I doubt “Mike” would give a straight answer is why the veer off?

    Was it that Mike got a political message that said “without the stakeholders there is no political support for the program” or did he just do a goofy on his on?

    That answer awaits history but somehow I suspect the former…even though “mike” is a goofball. RGO

  • Robert G. Oler

    Michael from Iowa wrote @ July 31st, 2011 at 10:11 am

    I dont see you post that often, but this post from the previous thread is a good sentiment, expressed in good words. Nicely done RGO

  • Vladislaw

    Robert wrote:

    “What I dont know and I doubt “Mike” would give a straight answer is why the veer off?”

    When Dr. Griffin did “FLO”, the SRB’s had been flying for ten years, and he went with liquid instead and said the soilds were to expensive, et cetera. It had to be pressure because he was against them before he was for them.

    First Lunar Outpost (FLO)

    If he would have went with this on an open competition and it was fixed priced with milestones it would have at least had a shot of launching.

  • Jeff, I just wanted to thank you for the lovely recognition of Dr. Marburger. I had occasion to speak with him twice, once just before the 2006 Goddard Symposium. During that meeting we chatted for a while about The Space Economy work being done by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. He talked about the President’s interest in finding ways to fire economic growth on Earth related to space and expressed frustration with the way things were going.

    Given an opening, I broached a concept in which I had played a very small role – for a ‘quick’ series of Moon missions that had been briefed to him at OSTP a couple of months before. Nicknamed “Rocks to Robots” it really had been developed by Dr. Lee Morin and focused on using in situ resources to develop robots that could build other robots and gradually build up infrastructure (the paper was later published in “Lunar Settlements”; folks can contact me at my blog if interested.) Our chat focused on the balance between integration and extension of current economic policies and industrial investment, with my input being chiefly that it was necessary to balance the two from a policy perspective, at least. On that day I was particularly focused on the business end of things (it goes without saying I’m always interested in the mission ops end) – so I really enjoyed the time with him, talking about how public/private partnerships might be engaged through such a project.

    In our discussion it was clear that not only had Dr. Marburger followed the briefing keenly but had seized onto the essential programmatic notion; that a huge development effort was not necessary on Earth prior to beginning the program; that launches could start as early as 2009-10, that much of what was needed could already be found – etc. He was animated in discussing the concept and invited me back.

    I found him to be extremely thoughtful, with a probing, insightful mind and a genuine enthusiasm for innovation – enthusiasm that is generally espoused because it is so “politically correct” but which is rarely manifested. I was very sad to read of his passing, and appreciate the notice of it here.

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