NASA

NRC report: NASA hasn’t made the case for a human asteroid mission

The National Research Council released on Wednesday its report on NASA’s strategic direction, as requested by Congress. The report was not an evaluation of what NASA’s goals should be, but instead an evaluation of NASA’s current strategy, as outlined in its strategic plan and related documents. And the committee found those plans lacking.

“There is no national consensus on strategic goals and objectives for NASA,” the report states. “Absent such a consensus, NASA cannot reasonably be expected to develop enduring strategic priorities for the purpose of resource allocation and planning.”

“The 2011 NASA strategic plan and associated documents do not, in our view, constitute a strategy,” study chairman Albert Carnesale, a professor and former chancellor of UCLA, said in a telecon with reporters on Wednesday. The documents list NASA’s goals and programs, he said, “but there are no sense of priorities and no guidance for resource allocation, both of which would be essential to anything that would be called a strategy.”

One of the report’s biggest findings was that one of NASA’s biggest goals, sending a human mission to an asteroid by 2025, does not have widespread acceptance, even within NASA itself. “Despite isolated pockets of support for a human asteroid mission, the committee did not detect broad support for an asteroid mission inside NASA, in the nation as a whole, or from the international community,” the report stated.

“If you ask people in the bowels of NASA, in the field offices—and we spoke with everybody from the directors of each of the field offices to college interns and everybody in between—this is not generally accepted,” Carnesale said of the asteroid mission goal. “It hasn’t been explained to them why this is the goal.”

That lack of acceptance is for several reasons, he said. Some see a lack of a budget line item for such a mission, while others note no specific asteroid has been selected, and some others question wonder an asteroid is the most logical next step towards the long-term goal of a human mission to Mars. “It’s not generally accepted for those reasons, which is quite different from being refuted,” he added. “People don’t see it as, ‘Gee, it’s clear that’s where we’re headed.’”

“I do not want to imply that there was uniform belief that the asteroid mission was a bad idea,” he said later. “Rather, there was not a consensus that that really is the next step on the way to Mars.”

Other aspects of the report largely confirmed existing perceptions about NASA, including that there’s a mismatch between the programs assigned to the agency and its budget. The report offered several options to address this mismatch, including increasing NASA’s budget, reducing the number and size of its programs, performing “aggressive” restructuring of the agency’s infrastructure, and doing more international cooperation.

None of those options, though, are easy to accomplish. For example, Carnesale said there’s a widespread belief that NASA has too much infrastructure in the form of its ten field centers, but any major changes, such as closing one or more centers, would be politically difficult. He said the committee asked former NASA administrators if the current center structure made sense. Most, he noted, “decided relatively early in their tenure that it would take all of the political capital they had, and then some, to deal with that question, so they decided it was better to spend their time on something else.”

118 comments to NRC report: NASA hasn’t made the case for a human asteroid mission

  • amightywind

    Despite isolated pockets of support for a human asteroid mission, the committee did not detect broad support for an asteroid mission inside NASA, in the nation as a whole, or from the international community

    Good grief. The space program should not be driven by the results of focus groups, or to placate the whiners in the international community. Obama named NEOs as the goal. What more do you need? Near earth asteroids are accessible to current technology, are interesting scientifically, and are potentially exploitable for resources. The rest is leadership, which is sorely lacking.

    If you ask people in the bowels of NASA

    Bowels of NASA. That’s a good one. It conjures am image of Melvin in Office Space muttering in the basement. Can’t say I’d give a hoot about placating the entrenched bureaucracy. They are a big part of NASA’s problem.

    • Dark Blue Nine

      “Can’t say I’d give a hoot about placating the entrenched bureaucracy. They are a big part of NASA’s problem.”

      You give a very big “hoot about placating the entrenched bureaucracy” every time you defend SLS/MPCV or Constellation’s record (or lack thereof). It’s hard to think of anything more entrenched than thousands of NASA civil servants and thousands more cost-plus contractors working on ’60s-era heavy lift and capsule designs using ’70s-era Shuttle technology.

  • NASA is a solution in search of a problem.

    NASA was created in 1958 as a response to a perceived threat, i.e. Sputnik and more generally the falsely assumed “missile gap” with the USSR.

    NASA was intended to be an aerospace research and development agency. But in 1961, JFK morphed NASA into a propaganda tool, creating a massive new bureaucracy to put boots on the Moon by the end of the decade. The justification? Prestige. Not science.

    $150 billion (in current dollars) later, we had boots on the Moon and a massive bureaucracy. We’ve spent the last 40 years trying to figure out what to do with it.

    The essential problem is that decision-makers falsely assume that NASA needs a “goal.” It was never intended to be a goal-driven agency. That’s why it’s flopped around for forty years — and why members of Congress have been able to pervert it into pork for their states and districts.

    Unfortunately, the decision-makers grew up with the Apollo paradigm, so they mistakenly assume that’s what’s needed to fix NASA’s woes. And so we keep making the same mistake.

    • Charles Divine

      Stephen, All,

      A decade after Neil Armstrong landed on the Moon, 59% of the American people thought Apollo was a waste of money. It’s hard to say how people’s lives changed because of Apollo. TV and home electronics went big in the 1950s. There wasn’t any debate about that. Perhaps some of the things you could get on TV and stereo, but not about the technology.

      I was a young physicist when Neil Armstrong stepped onto the Moon. I remember that mission to this day. My memories of Apollo 13 were from the film. I don’t remember any of the other Apollo missions.

      Obama (and for that matter Garver) remember Apollo as children. Perhaps that is why they have some interest (in Garver’s case a great deal of interest) in space.

      NASA and Apollo could be a large bubble that grew because of the conflict with the Soviet Union. Now that the Soviet Union is gone.

      We need real reform at NASA, perhaps making it like the original NACA which helped develop airplanes that have changed the lives of Americans and others.

  • mike shupp

    My take’s a bit different. I think just about all US Presidents, from Nixon onward, have looked at space exploration/exploitation as something which has potential at a far distant time, but which is too complicated and too expensive and too difficult politically and too damned dangerous in the present day world. (What kind of use would al Quida put spaceships to?)

    The upshot is that we get a manned space program that doesn’t do much except preserve a little manned space flight capability, because that’s all it’s supposed to do. If you’re ill tempered, you might call this a kick-the-can-down-the-road strategy. Or you might think of it as “coast guard” strategy. The Coast Guard ISN’T a Navy in fact, but it looks a little bit like a Navy, with ships and sailors and admirals and all, and does some Naval-type things, even though we all understand it isn’t much good at sinking enemy warships and helping conquer the world. That’s the analogue to our space program, which isn’t suppposed to really be a space program, but is standing in till the real thing can be developed.

    I gotta say, I don’t think this is a perfectly spendid strategy. It’s gone on far too long and too many people have confused the illusion with reality.

  • E.P. Grondine

    This report appears to be worth reading, and I am surprised by that.

    The answer is simple. If you look at the organization chart here:
    http://science.nasa.gov/about-us/organization-and-leadership/

    There needs to be an office to deal with impactors at the third level. Taking out the support level, that is the second level, reporting straight to the AA.

    That’s the person who should be explaining the manned asteroid mission, and explaining why its on the way to Mars.

    I don’t know who you get to fill that position, but the very media friendly Don Yeomans comes to mind.

  • Mark R. Whittington

    A stinging rebuke of Obama space policy.

    • Robert G. Oler

      Whittington…predictable. How it must gall you that the voters not only rejected Bush43 but the entire tea party agenda…

      Now after the reign of terror of the GOP on 1 Jan 2013 we have the potential to see it all come to an end…and then we will rebuild the Union. fade into history just go go away RGO

      • amightywind

        Umm, the GOP did win the House. Things are not as dire for us as you suggest. Perhaps the public will bet better disposed after another recession, when more taxes are extracted from them and handed to Obama’s looters.

        I don’t know who you get to fill that position, but the very media friendly Don Yeomans comes to mind.

        Not another asteroid hysteric! I congratulate the asteroid guys for characterizing the near earth threat and determining that it is microscopic.

        • Robert G. Oler

          amightywind
          December 6, 2012 at 1:10 pm · Reply

          Umm, the GOP did win the House. >>

          No

          At best it held a majority in the House and just barely and ONLY because of gerrymandering. If you look at the “popular vote” for the House, the Dems won it by an overwhelming number…

          but just as the GOP tried to hold its status even as it descends into minority status by stopping people from voting…they have been successful in gerrymandering the districts to make winning by others “hard”.

          On every issue Obama and Romney drew a clear difference with each other and without a doubt Romney and his view on issues was rejected. What the GOP held onto was the stupid and sparsely populated areas.

          But when the history is written on this election it will probably be called the Dean Chambers election.

          The GOP has lied, exaggerated, self decieved for so long that it could not stop when the illuminate bought into the “unscrewed polls” (even Whittington was had)

          It apparently never crossed anyones mind that the election was actually coming and it would either validate or destroy the fiction that the GOP had wove for itself.

          The reaction of the Fox News Host when Ohio went down…was well priceless.

          you folks have finally been found out for either fools or liars…and your done. RGO

        • E.P. Grondine

          Hi AW –

          “I congratulate the asteroid guys for characterizing the near earth threat and determining that it is microscopic.”

          Hilarious. Absolutely hilarious.
          Keep up the great work! :P) :P)

      • Mark R. Whittington

        Trillion dollar deficits and massive tax increases are hardly the means to restore the Republican from Obama’s misrule. Besides, Romney was hardly the tea party choice. A lot of TP candidates like Ted Cruz won.

        In any case, back to the topic at hand, the NRC report reveals the vapidness that is Obamaspace. It could serve as a good basis to restoring the space program, though likely not until after 2016.

        • Paul

          Obama can’t find a place for the manned space program to go that makes sense, but in that he isn’t any different from any preceding administration. At least he isn’t compounding that problem by choosing a ridiculous way to get there.

  • James

    NASA is a place with lots of missions (ISS, COTS, MSL, JWST, MARS program, etc. etc. etc.), but no ‘mission’.

    Is anyone really surprised by that? Obama cancellation of CONSTELLATION and declarations of Asteroid flag planting notwithstanding?

    • James

      @ Guest:

      I agree’d with Obama’s cancellation of CX. I know it was a program. A program that had no chance of success. AND. if it had money, and time, and an architecture that would have worked, I don’t think folks would be saying NASA was adrift and aimless, and without purpose. And NASA would still be silo city with HSF not mingling with the other directorates, and one could still say NASA is a place of many missions, but no mission.

    • James wrote:

      Obama cancellation of CONSTELLATION and declarations of Asteroid flag planting notwithstanding?

      Obama proposed cancellation of Constellation. Congress agreed and cancelled it. No President has the unilateral authority to cancel a program directed by Congress.

      • James

        Yes, yes yes…Obama proposes, Congress disposes. Had Obama wanted to keep Cx, it would have been kept ( proposed) and Congress would have agreed with it.

      • vulture4

        With the exception of Ares I, it is hard to see any evidence that the Constellation program has been cancelled. Lander development hasn’t been funded, but this is nothing new. We might logically refer to SLS/Orion as “the program formerly known as Constellation”. Despite its criticism of Constellation the Augustine Commission failed to make the ovious conclusion, that the strategy itself was in error.

  • Guest

    Is anyone really surprised by that? Obama cancellation of CONSTELLATION and declarations of Asteroid flag planting notwithstanding?

    Why the FUD? Especially here where most participants either lived and/or know the history of these programmatic sequences running back for decades. Constellation was not a mission, nor even a project, it was supposedly a program ,but what it ended up with was a single technically intractable project – Ares I. Now what is your problem with the cancellation of Ares I?

    • E.P. Grondine

      People believe what they want to believe, facts like .7 G combustion oscillations be damned. I also note here that we still don’t know what Griffin was thinking, or how those oscillations made it through NASA safety.

    • Uh, HELLO? The Ares 1 was to have launched the Orion CEV, with the crew on board, to acheive an LEO-rendezvous. The giant cargo was to have been launched separately. The earth departure stage, plus the lunar lander craft. This separated the crew from the giant heavy-lift rocket, and its launch into an LEO parking orbit. This was done for safety reasons. If the Ares 1 had had launch oscillation difficulties, then they would’ve needed to be worked through & solved, by the time a manned mission, an equivalent to Apollo 7, could be sent. The Orion capsule would’ve been equipped with a launch escape system, during the ascent phase. In the event of a possible explosive launch accident, the capsule would be able to make a high-speed separation maneuver from the rest of the rocket below. The Mercuries, Geminis, & Apollos all had this bail-out option, built into their ascent flight plans. I still believe this two-rocket launch approach, while semi-complicated, is still the best & safest way to accomplish a cis-lunar manned mission. NASA would’ve had a much longer stretch of years, in which to work out the bugs in both the Ares 1 & the Ares 5 launchers, than the 1960′s NASA engineers had, prior to their generation’s deep space missions.

      • Guest

        The Ares 1 was to have launched the Orion CEV, with the crew on board, to acheive an LEO-rendezvous. The giant cargo was to have been launched separately. The earth departure stage, plus the lunar lander craft.

        Sure that was the plan until reality intervened. The reality of Constellation was that the Altair lander was cancelled, Ares V went through so many redesigns that no metal was bent and they created intractable base heating problems, and Ares I was so completely borked that all they managed to accomplish was a test flight with a four segment booster and dummy upper stage. Orion is more or less an absolute joke. If you are still supporting Constellation and its reincarnation then I can’t help you with any facts.

        • I DO believe & support a reincarnation of Project Constellation, perhaps, with a better name, this time around maybe: we can name it after some specific constellation, stellar group, or a certain star; also the new name should encompass both of the spacecraft elements: the lunar orbiter & lunar lander,(both CEV & L-SAM), that way numbering the expeditions would be easy. Also good for during the project’s beginning, when just one of the crafts is launched on a designated-as-complete mission; i.e.: an Orion craft sent by itself, to be tested in LEO, like on Apollo 7. Since the two space-craft modules already have model names, those could still be used to designate each craft that was used on a given expedition. In any case: “Orion-Altair #__”, sounds a bit too cumbersome. If any single numbered mission failed to depart from low earth parking orbit,during the cislunar phase, then just designate the next mission the same number, with a letter B or C, after the number. This might help also, with numbering the later unmanned variant lander-crafts, as sub-missions. If anyone out there cares for my suggestions for a romantic-sounding name for a series of new cislunar missions.

          • Guest

            I DO believe & support a reincarnation of Project Constellation

            Good luck with that. You can call it Apollo and start where they left off, Apollo 18. That consumed 4.5% of the federal budget for ten years and was summarily cancelled, just like Constellation consumed well over 10 billion dollars in four years and was summarily cancelled, without producing a single orbital flight.

            So you got your wish. SLS and MPCV are really just Constellation.

          • Coastal Ron

            Chris Castro opined:

            I DO believe & support a reincarnation of Project Constellation, perhaps, with a better name, this time around maybe: we can name it after some specific constellation, stellar group, or a certain star; also the new name should encompass both of the spacecraft elements: the lunar orbiter & lunar lander,(both CEV & L-SAM), that way numbering the expeditions would be easy.

            Boy, I’m not sure where to start on this one, but I’ll try:

            1. The Constellation program wasn’t killed because of it’s name, it was killed because of how much it was going to cost. Until you address how much money government human exploration programs need, you’re not going anywhere in a big way.

            2. Thinking that a catchy name, with some logical naming convention for each mission will somehow make everyone in the U.S. suddenly support a return to the Moon is nuts. Pure nuts.

            I know we’ll return to the Moon some day, most likely because eventually it will be achievable for non-governmental entities. The Golden Spike announcement is an indication that some people think we’re close to that now, and they may be right.

            However right now there is no reason for the U.S. Government to go back to the Moon. We’ve been there, and going there again is not going to solve any imminent problem we have.

            • vulture4

              In the SMD world a catchy name has proven important, if not critical, to mission success. Look at all the trouble with the ill-named JWST.

              • Yeah, always considering that better names for certain grand space projects will pay off, later on. The manned return-to-the-Moon venture is one of those grandiose future occurances, literally once-in-a-generation opportunities, where some emphasis on a romantic-sounding title, would be worthwhile. Constellation is a project which should be reincarnated by a future administration, and taken ahead to full fruition, whether they keep the same program name or not. The Mars zealots are very ignorant of the spacecraft operation potentials that’d arise from a second round of manned Moon expeditions, and just how perfectly adaptable they’d be to later on acheiving their most favorite goal.

            • I NEVER said anything so ludicrous: that Constellation was cancelled because of its name. The grand Return-to-the-Moon-after-fifty/sixty-years-wasted-in-LEO project could’ve been named “Shirley”, and could’ve had number/letter designations matching the days of the zodiac—-the point is, that whoever/whichever nation initiates this: the second & more extensive round of manned Lunar exploration, is going to benefit in leaps & bounds, by opening deep space wide open for humanity. The sooner that seventh successful lunar landing expedition happens, & the sooner that thirteenth man steps down from that lunar module ladder, is the sooner that any farther ventures into deeper space will be truly on the horizon. But a series of new manned landings & surface stays will be a necessary intermediate goal, BEFORE commiting astronaut lives to any Mars-reaching attempt! Gemini was very necessary prior to Apollo.

              • Coastal Ron

                Chris Castro said:

                …& the sooner that thirteenth man steps down from that lunar module ladder…

                I guess you’re already excluding the possibility of a woman being the next human on the Moon, uh?

                …the sooner that any farther ventures into deeper space will be truly on the horizon.

                We don’t need to go TO the Moon in order to go BEYOND the Moon. None of the serious plans I’ve seen for going to asteroids and beyond mandate we travel to the surface of the Moon first. There is nothing on the Moon that we can’t get cheaper from Earth.

                But a series of new manned landings & surface stays will be a necessary intermediate goal, BEFORE commiting astronaut lives to any Mars-reaching attempt!

                Your opinion, but not backed up by any facts. And again, no serious plans for going to Mars require us to go to the Moon first.

          • JimNobles

            “I DO believe & support a reincarnation of Project Constellation…”
            Well, Ares I was cancelled with Falcon 9 apparently to take its place so that part of Constellation lives on.

            The Ares IV part of the program is still being worked on as SLS but I suspect that will be challenged beginning after the first successful flight of the Falcon Heavy when people who have power and aren’t beholden to particular aerospace companies take a good hard look at the numbers. As for Orion, it is quite possible that either Boeing or SpaceX could have developed a similar or superior vehicle for much less the price.

            So, in a sense, Constellation as a program is doing fairly well. But it is our duty as American citizens and space enthusiasts to do what we can to make sure the pork-fest aspects are mitigated as much as possible. In other words, it is our duty to see that tax-payer monies aren’t wasted any more that is unavoidable. If one company can produce a satisfactory product or provide a satisfactory service at a lesser cost to the tax-payer then it’s our duty to make that happen if we can. Common sense, right?

            Unfortunatly it’s been my experience that most people who seem upset about the cancellation of Constellation and the emergence of commercial space are more concerned with the fortunes of certain aerospace companies than they are concerned about the American space program or wasting tax-payer money. I think this is a disgrace. Typically human but a disgrace.

            • What I find revolting about Commercial Space is that it strands us in LEO all over again! Commercial Space means even more decades trapped in LEO! Doing more circles, doing more zero gravity research. Still more space stations, and six-month long stays by astronauts. Sounds so dull & boring, doesn’t it?! Compare the adventurous flight plan of a typical Apollo Moon expedition to any current ISS space station stay: yes, there’s NO comparison, really!

              • Neil Shipley

                Well that’s actually better than being stranded on Earth as SLS/MPCV will do.

              • Coastal Ron

                Chris Castro illogically stated:

                What I find revolting about Commercial Space is that it strands us in LEO all over again!

                This is such a bizarre statement Chris. Relying on massive government-funded programs to not go massively over budget is what has kept us from leaving LEO.

              • JimNobles

                “What I find revolting about Commercial Space is that it strands us in LEO all over again!”

                I can’t say I follow the logic of that argument. As I understand it Commercial Space, at its heart, is just a new way of procuring goods and services. A way that, at least in the beginning, has shown promise in reducing costs. NASA and Congress will still be deciding the missions and whether or not to pay for them. Is some Commercial Space company going to refuse to sell a product or service if it is to be used beyond low earth orbit?

                Some people say that we need SLS and Orion because some of the politicians who support those programs mainly do so because it is good for their constituencies and if those programs are cancelled those politicians might lose interest and stop supporting space. In my opinion people who think that probably have a point. But it is something we will have to deal with.

                The emergence of Commercial Space isn’t going to stop the political in-fighting and machinations. Commercial Space is just a new factor introduced into the equation. I say we look at it, study it, find what use it may be, and run, run, run with it for as long and as far as we can make good with it.

              • I can’t say I follow the logic of that argument.

                There is never any logic to Chris Castro’s “arguments.” He substitutes exclamation marks and capital letters for logic.

  • Robert G. Oler

    “There is no national consensus on strategic goals and objectives for NASA,”

    that really could be said about almost every NASA program post the start of the space station…and certainly about Cx.

    the only “goal” NASA programs must do is keep people employed mostly but not exclusively in red states…thats to try and offset the rest of the low wage low benefit jobs that red state leaders have saddled their states with.

    Go look in the Clear Lake area (home of JSC) the only lasting benefit of the space program has been the explosion of health care facilities … a testament to the efficiency of teh upcoming single payer system…with civil service health care and the almost same provided to at least top tier employeers at NASA…the health care providers have taken off.

    I am reading the SFF report…more later. but suffice it to say that Cx had despite the ravings of the right wing NO SUPPORT…it was easy to kill. RGO

  • E.P. Grondine

    I have my own different view of history of course.

    Where NASA lost direction was with the shuttle, and specifically when ATK solids were forced on NASA by Thiokol.

    von Braun’s teams’ pressure fed liquid boosters could have been used stand alone and clustered as well.

    With the shuttle in the solid booster configuration, NASA could not deliver low launch costs.

    You can go back to the period when low launch costs were expected from the shuttle, and find manned Moon and Mars architectures.

    Constellation, Ares 1, was the shuttle again, but worse.

    The growth of the public awareness of how severe the impact hazard really is has been frustrated. No one was or is there to explain the DPT architecture to the public.

    The exact institutional change I suggested above is THE correct answer to providing the correct answer to the “Why” question.

    If Don Yeomans does not want that job, perhaps someone from Langley’s CAPS team may be the person needed.

    • amightywind

      The Thiokol/ATK SRBs are some of the most reliable space hardware ever flown. The one incident they ever had occurred because they were flow out of spec. They went on to fly admirably for 25 years.

      • E.P. Grondine

        Hi AW-

        On the shuttle, the central core provided a damping mass for the combustion oscillations, and these oscillations were well known at the very start of the Ares 1 project.

        We still don’t know what Griffin was thinking about in its entirety and we still don’t know how the oscillations made it through NASA safety.

        There are also the lack of abort modes, and finally the cost per launch.

        Solids have had their uses, but they have been mainly military.
        While ATK wants and wanted to expand their uses and customer base, there are other US firms that could and can deliver those same services at lower cost.

      • Robert G. oler

        amightywind
        December 7, 2012 at 8:09 am · Reply

        The Thiokol/ATK SRBs are some of the most reliable space hardware ever flown. The one incident they ever had occurred because they were flow out of spec”

        No

        the SRB’s were being flown inside of their specifications, the problem is that they did not meet specs.

        RGO

  • Robert G. Oler

    There really is nothing earth shattering in this report…the reality is that the sort of human spaceflight adventures that we as a nation have been doing for sometime Have been losing altitude in terms of public support.

    there are (dispite the anti Obama rhetoric by some) a few givens.

    One. Human spaceflight in “grand explorations” really only has garnered support OUTSIDE THE TECHNOWELFARE STAKE HOLDERS under very limited circumstances.

    Roger L. does a great job debunking the myth that Apollo ever had large popular support numbers. It did have “high” numbers but even that faded quickly after the goal was reached…and there was never support for the grand adventures that some foresaw…ie “continuing Apollo”

    Shuttle barely made it and only when expenditures were capped with lots of limits on its performance. Station survived by only a vote as it seemed to go “open ended”. Had it not been tied to the Russians and not gotten the Psycho Dan “you have to get something flying” treatment…and gone as it was going open ended in terms of cost and timetable…it would have died.

    so Two…no project whose cost are at the level NASA needs to have them and with a more or less open timetable…and really no defined goals…is going to garner serious public support.

    Empirical evidence for this is the inability of the Romney campaign to enunciate a space vision of its own. Romney could thread the needle on abortion politics/policy or home schooling or any number of things but he and his VP nominee were never going to do anything but rhetoric when it came time to talk about space policy.

    You wonder what those idiots Pace and Griffin et all thought of this? The Romney hangers on here were forecasting all sorts of Romney space policies…but the campaign was as silent as a tomb

    why? They knew that their limited audience of pro space technowelfare people would be satisfied, at least temporarily by some anti Obama rhetoric…and any plans for a massive apollo like (or even next goal) effort were going to be pilloried as cost issues.

    so three…As long as the NASA HSF/contractor cost structure remain in place (ie open ended on time and money) no one is going to try a serious effort at a specific program period.

    In all the talk of an EML station no one even tried to put a cost on it…much less what it was suppose to do. A mission to a NEO …loluck.

    SLS/Orion is really the last gasp. the only support it has is from congressional representatives of the stakeholders…if we do move to sequestration and “off the fiscal thing” we are going to find out how little support even it has.

    It is tempting to blame this on Bush43 as all things bad should be (grin)…but in the end NASA has done this to themselves. It is just to many years of torpor and timidity….to many years of promoting the worst people possible to maangement and never holding them accountable.

    As the Doors would say we are working through “the end”

    (of so many things) FORWARD (apologies to MSNBC) RGO

  • Coastal Ron

    This report is no surprise.

    The Apollo program was created to support a political goal, not an exploration one. The Shuttle, which was trying to leverage the assets and knowledge created during the Apollo program, was initially trying to create infrastructure (i.e. low cost access to space). And the ISS, which originally was thought of as a research platform but turned into a end-of-the-Cold-War multi-national research platform, is just an extension of the science we do here on Earth. We don’t yet have a culture of human space exploration for the sake of human space exploration.

    For pure human exploration, the Constellation program showed that despite the romance of doing it, the tendency for large government programs to go wildly over budget means space exploration can only survive as a large government effort if there is a “National Imperative”. Which there isn’t. And I don’t see that changing.

    Which means human space exploration needs to be rethought, which is what this report is highlighting.

    So first we have to have a nationally agreed upon reason for doing human space exploration. I suggest that the overall goal be to become a space-faring nation. Pretty simple, and it implies that we’re moving our way of doing business (i.e. capitalism) out into space.

    But we also need to two other things:

    1. We need to define that NASA (or whoever) is just a lead agency, and that it’s charter is to hand off as soon as possible responsibility for what it’s already conquered. Part of this would be in keeping NASA’s budget lean, so it doesn’t start accumulating “things”. For instance at some point NASA might transfer it’s part of the ownership of the ISS to a U.S. non-governmental entity so it can free up that part of it’s budget for new endeavors.

    2. There needs to be a committee or group that decides NASA’s goals. This is different than a President and NASA Administrator running NASA. This would be the group that actually decides the next priorities to be worked. Congress would still have to have their input, but I would hope that it would be hard for them to interfere with the recommendations as long as they are reasonable plans.

    But overall I think it’s pretty clear that the model we’ve been using for the past decades doesn’t work – that President’s and Congress are not the right place to be planning multi-decade efforts.

    • Justin Kugler

      That’s almost exactly what the Space Foundation proposed in their full report. :)

    • E.P. Grondine

      Hi CR –

      “There needs to be a committee or group that decides NASA’s goals.”

      I believe that group already exists. Its called the Congress, which sometimes takes advice from the President.

      • Coastal Ron

        E.P. Grondine said:

        I believe that group already exists. Its called the Congress, which sometimes takes advice from the President.

        For most agencies and departments of the government, Congress doesn’t design their equipment, which is what Congress did with the Space Launch System. That was clearly a case of Congress protecting jobs, not being interested in human space exploration. That was also an unusual amount of involvement for Congress.

        What I’m talking about is what already happens with most other departments and agencies, including NASA, where the overall framework is agreed upon by Congress. This habit of Congress using NASA as a slush fund will have to end at some point, otherwise there will be no human space exploration. It’s as simple as that. There is not enough budget to do a steady human exploration effort AND fund lots of pork.

    • Call me Ishmael

      Coastal Ron, December 6, 2012 at 4:01 pm

      2. There needs to be a committee or group that decides NASA’s goals. … I would hope that it would be hard for [Congress] to interfere with the recommendations as long as they are reasonable plans.

      I have to agree with E.P. Grondine here. Whoever provides the money will end up determining the goals. There just ain’t no way around it.

  • Bill

    I get a kick out of these reports. In the Space Foundation Pioneering NASA report they do not fault NASA for the poorly defined or poorly stated goals, missions, instead they fault the President and Congress. Here the NRC faults NASA for not making the case for an asteroid mission. Elsewhere Bolden is faulted for not pounding his shoe on the desk because an L2 based station is not supported by the White House. I find a lot of this laughable.

    First, recognize that over the last several years the human space flight program has quite literally collapsed. Who is responsible? I think you start with the people who have been at the top of the human space flight program, and who, today, are still at the top of the program. It does not inspire me to put any level of faith in the current NASA leadership. Too much money used up, no progress made, failure to use the resources NASA had in place, even in the case of the BIG ongoing program, Station, failure to ensure that right from the start there was a serious plan in place for use. Maybe Presidents and Congresses had some oversight responsibilities and maybe NASA management has to seek their concurrence, but it is clearly the NASA management- in place for several years and still in place today, that have to be faulted for the failures.

    Second, as I read the Space Foundation report, what is anyone’s rush to get to some new location-whether it is LEO or L2 or an asteroid or the surface of the moon or Mars. As Apollo, Shuttle and most recently Constellation, all should have taught everyone, if you cannot build a sustainable affordable program, then it will all die soon enough. The goal, as the Space Foundation Pioneering report points out is not to keep the top level echelons of NASA managers employed. The goal is to extend capabilities, extend the frontier, increase the value of the hardware, spin off to other customers the capabilities to use what NASA develops.

    When we (and I was one of them) designed the ISS we built in adaptability, reconfigurability and maintainability. We made the system dynamic and capable of supporting programs over the long term. Shutting down Shuttle has mitigated some of the capabilities, but still the potential is there to use elements designed originally for ISS to go to other orbits, higher orbits, lunar orbits, planetary trajectories, etc. Develop those capabilities and you can get to L2 or to an Asteroid, or to a Mars trajectory. You will have a mother-craft suitable for lunar missions. Enhance the technologies. Extend the capabilities. Get to work on some of the critical issues like propulsion. And yes, if you maintain ISS spending at the same levels it was at during design and deployment, then you will not have money to put into new development efforts. This means the structure of the NASA organization is wrong because they are so totally focused on today’s mission.

    I fault NASA for not strategizing what they have now and how they need to use it for the furure. Not a non-descript bowel within NASA organization-I fault the leadership-Bolden and his AA’s and top level SES’s. If they cannot do the job, get rid of them. They are the failure. It is really pretty simple and straightforward but it is obvious that the NASA ‘leadership’ does not have a clue of what it is doing.

    • Justin Kugler

      Did you read the full report or just the Executive Summary, Bill?

      The Space Foundation report clearly goes after supposed increases in White House or Congressional support as myths and calls on NASA to make its own existential case and re-establish credibility with effective Station management.

  • Crash Davis

    Golden Spike huh? More like all hat, no cattle.

    Just another New Space snow job, per usual.
    Pretty pathetic.

    What has Planetary accomplished since since their “announcement”?

    Expect Disappearing Spike to vanish into the ether very soon as well. C’mon Wayne Hale, you are better than this.

    • JimNobles

      I also found the Golden Spike thing to be a bit of a let-down. No real money behind it.

      • All commercial space ventures will flounder & just exist on paper; especially when the entrepreneurs speak of venturing beyond-LEO, without major government backing. It doesn’t suprise me in the least, that all this talk simply leads to even more talk. NO commercial entity is ever going to get us out of LEO. NONE.

        • “It doesn’t suprise me in the least, that all this talk simply leads to even more talk. NO commercial entity is ever going to get us out of LEO. NONE.”
          Given that SpaceX’s entire reason for existing is to go to Mars, I think that statement may be a little premature. The last time I checked, Mars was beyond LEO. As the Zen Master said, “We shall see …”

  • Robert G. Oler

    Mark R. Whittington
    December 6, 2012 at 6:15 pm · Reply

    Trillion dollar deficits and massive tax increases are hardly the means to restore the Republican from Obama’s misrule. Besides, Romney was hardly the tea party choice. A lot of TP candidates like Ted Cruz won. ”

    I see Mark that you continue to have difficulty with reality.

    Trillion dollar deficits were predicted by the CBO back in 2005 as the Bush tax cuts took hold. WE are on the verge of seeing them fade into history and so will the trillion dollar deficits.

    The experiment in “faith based” governance, where Dean Chambers like things are made up (the war pays for itself, the tax cuts pay for themselves, the WMD we know where it is, the polls are all skewed toward Democrats) is coming to an end. The people have seen through the lies and self delusions…and in some way we should thank Dean Chambers, and karl and Michael Barone (gee dont you feel had! LMAO) because they gave an excellent example of the self delusion and then it was illustrated by well the facts.

    Where tea party people won is in the dumbest of the dumb and the most sparce areas…and to argue that Romney was not conservative enough is goolish. It wasnt that he didnt advocate tea party politics hard enough that cost him the election…it was that he advocated them at ALL.

    “In any case, back to the topic at hand, the NRC report reveals the vapidness that is Obamaspace. It could serve as a good basis to restoring the space program, though likely not until after 2016.”:

    You have until 2016 or so to try and come up with a reason that Obama’s policies in space did not really succeed instead it really was what the GOP did.

    Commercial crew and cargo are going to be a rousing success, private money is flowing into spaceflight; and the launcher industry will in large measure come back to the US because of policies you opppose…

    And no one will give a darn that we did not go to an asteroid or the Moon or anywhere else. Those are your fantasies…just like Barones.

    You have not gotten a thing correct in space policy in over a decade…why do you do this to yourself? enjoy RGO

  • MrEarl

    I thought a blast from the past would be in order here.
    Barbara Mikulski’s comments on the Obama administration’s just announced plans for NASA.

    http://www.spacepolitics.com/2010/02/17/mikulski-nasa-should-be-mission-driven/

    Robert G. Oler
    February 17, 2010 at 7:53 pm · Reply

    Mark R. Whittington wrote @ February 17th, 2010 at 6:48 pm

    More push back from Congress against the Obama space policy. Clearly the administration has not thought a lot of things through…

    goofy.

    really goofy

    Babs is on with this. it is straight out of Sir Humphrey’s playbook…postpone hearings let things (like program stoppages) settle out…then go the inevitable way.

    The administration is playing this quite well. To bad that they are playing the rest of it poorly

    Robert G. Oler

    Oler and Whittington going at it.

    The more things change the more things stay the same.

    The asteroid mission was a non-starter then as it is now.
    Mr President, swallow your pride, admit the asteroid idea wasn’t thought through and approve the EM L2 Gateway as this nation’s next step in sending people to Mars. Put the money in this year’s budget to get the program started and direct NASA to work with our international and commercial partners to achieve this goal by the 50th anniversary of the LAST time men walked on the moon.

    • Robert G. Oler

      MrEarl
      December 6, 2012 at 8:17 pm · Reply

      Mr President, swallow your pride, admit the asteroid idea wasn’t thought through and approve the EM L2 Gateway as this nation’s next step in sending people to Mars. Put the money in this year’s budget to get the program started and direct NASA to work with our international and commercial partners to achieve this goal by the 50th anniversary of the LAST time men walked on the moon.>

      LOL why on This Creators Earth would he do that…aside from the fact that Obama should not care about anything in particular that happens after 2016…and NASA couldnt hit a deadline if it had to…and they would spend more in real dollars then it took to go to the Moon in the first place…there is this…

      “My fellow Americans. I am tonight going to make an exception to the notion of cutting programs across the board so that NASA can return to the Moon by 2022.

      Most of you dont recall that this would be the 50th anniversary of the last time Americans were on the Moon, and who the heck knows or cares what we would do when we return; but heck I am game for giving NASA, which has not met a budget or schedule since the lunar landings a pretty much blank check, because no one there can come close to telling me what it would cost…to do this four years after I leave office.

      My real goal here is to make Gene Cernan happy, who the heck is he? you ask, go look it up, even though “Geno” supported the other guy in my reelect.

      Be of good cheer and everyone at NASA and the contractors…enjoy the technowelfare”

      Mr. Earl sometimes you folks just dont live in the real world….

      RGO

      • It would indeed be an ultra-tragedy if every last one of the Apollo astronauts were to die of old age, prior to any new astronauts venturing beyond low earth orbit. But it seems just like we, as a nation, are headed in that direction. The re-election of the Low Earth Orbit President, seems to encapsulate this future outcome, solidly. The proposed manned asteroid mission put forward by BO, is pure cannabis fantasy. There is NOTHING worthwhile to do, nor to be gained technologically, by heading off to meet up with an NEO. This “goal” never made an ounce of sense.

        • Coastal Ron

          Chris Castro blurted:

          There is NOTHING worthwhile to do, nor to be gained technologically, by heading off to meet up with an NEO. This “goal” never made an ounce of sense.

          Unless, of course, the big goal everyone is focused on is getting to Mars, in which case going to an NEO provides a goal that helps us prepare and train for going to Mars.

          Sorry to burst your bubble, but I guess Lunartics are not very good at connecting the dots… ;-)

          • A new manned Lunar program that emplaced a crew on the Moon, for large multi-month spans of time, would be a far better preparation for a future Mars expedition! First you prove the viability of your landing module system, and stretch its capabilities further. Sure, the project BEGINS with landing sortie missions which exceed the stay length of the three Apollo “J” missions. But after a few of those, you expand the surface operations, to where you’re staying on the Moon, two, three, or even four months. This would be possible, because this time, the one lunar lander would not have to be all there would be to it: an unmanned variant could be launched, flown cislunar, & automatedly landed, at a pre-selected site, ladened with extra equipment & provisions, which the subsequently arriving crew on board lander #2 could access.
            Interestingly enough, this two-lander/one-of-them-unmanned mission approach, matches the basic paradigm behind most, current Mars manned mission proposals. These intermittent, but lengthy, outpost Moon missions would be vastly more superior in gauging the precise needs of a possible Red Planet crew, than any hypothetical foray to rendezvous with a dinky asteroid—-which by the way, you could NEITHER stand, walk, or drive upon, once you got there!

            • Coastal Ron

              Chris Castro wrote:

              A new manned Lunar program that emplaced a crew on the Moon, for large multi-month spans of time, would be a far better preparation for a future Mars expedition!

              Not only has this been debunked for all the obvious reasons (no atmosphere, different gravity, different resources available, etc.), but no one at a national level is talking about it – the whole conversation is about going to Mars. Justifying going to the Moon because we have to pass it on the way to Mars is pretty weak.

              Move along.

              • NO, I WON’T MOVE ALONG! We’ve been to low earth orbit thousands of times, doing the same, exact “experimenting in zero g”. If LEO is worthy of loads of repeat visits, on board the same old space stations, why then isn’t the Moon worthy of a second, much more extensive look?! All this LUDICROUS business of emplacing another ISS at one of the lagrange points reeks of the cowardice of avoiding any and all planetary surfaces of any sizeable gravitation. It’s like the Flexible Path-ers want nothing to do with extraterrestrial soil & dust until clear up to that “six minutes of terror” interlude, upon breaking areocentric orbit. All far, FAR into the future!

              • @Chris Castro
                “We’ve been to low earth orbit thousands of times, doing the same, exact “experimenting in zero g”.”
                And if NASA assume that SLS/Orion MPCV is what they are going to rely on, it’s a surefire way to make sure they will be stuck in LEO another 40 years. Again, Chris, the idea is not just get cheap orbit access to continue to go to LEO. Flight to LEO is a major part of the cost of flight to anywhere. Until the cost to LEO is brought down significantly, we won’t be going to the Moon, asteroid, Mars or any place else on a regular basis.
                Oh, but I forgot, you think development and operating costs don’t matter don’t you? ;) How incredibly innocent and naive you are. How convenient to live in a fairyland where money is not a matter for concern.

              • Coastal Ron

                Chris Castro cried:

                We’ve been to low earth orbit thousands of times, doing the same, exact “experimenting in zero g”.

                That is an ignorant statement. It has only been until recently that scientists have begun to think that they have solved the problem of bone loss in zero G for six month stays. Now they are going to see if the same solution will work for one year stays in zero G. This how science works.

                There has been lots of other science taking place that will enable us to live and work in space for far longer periods of time, all of which you want to throw away so you can have short golf games on the Moon.

                Government spending on human space exploration has to lead to humans being able to live permanently in space, otherwise we’re funding tourism.

                “:why then isn’t the Moon worthy of a second, much more extensive look?!

                Apparently you don’t listen Chris. None of us is saying the Moon is off limits to further exploration. But why does it merit more government money? We’ve already been there, so any additional trips there are in order to exploit the Moon, and that is not the role of the government. That is the role of private companies.

                So you should be spending all your hysterical energy trying to convince individuals and companies to spend money going to the Moon. For instance, you should be fully supporting the Golden Spike company, since that gets people back to the Moon. Are you?

              • I am VERY distrustful of Commercial Space. It has been very unreliable in coming forth with anything of any value; and then again, all it can do is imitate the [multi-decades-old, continually-having-been-done-all-that-time-since-the-1970's] LEO astronautic exercises that government space has. THE GOVERNMENT JUST HAS TO TAKE THE LEAD IN ALL THIS! Commercial entities have no profit-making incentive to build a heavy-lift, multi-stage cislunar rocket. This is a task that needs government backing! Sure, eventually a time will come, in the farther future when entrepreneur companies might be able to step in. But that time certainly is NOT now.

              • Coastal Ron

                Chris Castro blurted:

                I am VERY distrustful of Commercial Space.

                Since NASA doesn’t build any of it’s major hardware, you have no choice but to trust commercial space.

                Commercial entities have no profit-making incentive to build a heavy-lift, multi-stage cislunar rocket.

                If there is demand, of course they have no incentive. The government has no demand to go back to the Moon either, which is why we haven’t been back in 40 years. This should be pretty easy to understand if you would only open your eyes.

                This is a task that needs government backing!

                Not really. And for the past 40 years Congress has pretty much shown how important it is to go back to the Moon – not very at all. The one time they did show interest (i.e. Constellation), the false promises of Michael Griffin about cost shocked Congress so much that they agreed to Obama’s request to cancel it. That should tell you something too about how much money Congress is willing to commit to any human space exploration effort – not much.

                Which brings us back to money – until someone can dramatically lower the costs to access space and stay there, we’re not going very far from LEO (or for very long).

              • @Chris Castro
                “all it can do is imitate the [multi-decades-old, continually-having-been-done-all-that-time-since-the-1970's] LEO astronautic exercises that government space has.”
                What else would they do as a first step? Did you honestly think they ought to be able to instantly go to the Moon and beyond without getting reliable LEO capability first? To expect anything else is nuts.

                “This is a task that needs government backing!”
                But government does not have to do it in the most expensive and man-hour intensive way, the way they are with SLS. That is what is going to make going back to the Moon impossible for NASA, if it continues to go the way it is going with SLS. Again, it has to be paid for some way. Get your head out of the clouds.

                “Commercial entities have no profit-making incentive to build a heavy-lift, multi-stage cislunar rocket.”
                Falcon Heavy will have 75% of the lift capacity of SLS Block I with NO government money used in its development. SpaceX say it may fly by the end of 2013, but I think more like 2014. If SpaceX can do that by themselves, they could certainly build an SLS Block II class vehicle for far less than what SLS would cost if they were given just a fraction of the money that is being wasted on SLS. Again, head – down – clouds.

                Note to Ron:
                “If there is demand, of course they have no incentive.”
                I think you meant:
                “If there is no demand, of course they have no incentive.”
                I do that kind of stuff all the time. Please feel free to let me know when I do it. I will be grateful.

              • Coastal Ron

                Thanks for the correction Rick.

    • pathfinder_01

      “The asteroid mission was a non-starter then as it is now.
      Mr President, swallow your pride, admit the asteroid idea wasn’t thought through and approve the EM L2 Gateway as this nation’s next step in sending people to Mars. Put the money in this year’s budget to get the program started and direct NASA to work with our international and commercial partners to achieve this goal by the 50th anniversary of the LAST time men walked on the moon.”

      Ah, dude no sane President Republican or Democrat will call for anything that will increase NASA spending at a time when we are facing a “fiscal cliff”. It would be bad politics and the EM L2 gateway as currently proposed is to give SLS(a rocket he didn’t want) a goal rather than to build a gateway. Otherwise you would use existing launchers and go from there.

      IMHO NASA balked at working with Obama and should expect him to be as gracious as they were.

    • A M Swallow

      The asteroid mission was a non-starter then as it is now.
      Mr President, swallow your pride, admit the asteroid idea wasn’t thought through and approve the EM L2 Gateway as this nation’s next step in sending people to Mars. Put the money in this year’s budget to get the program started and direct NASA to work with our international and commercial partners to achieve this goal by the 50th anniversary of the LAST time men walked on the moon.

      No need for the president to swallow his pride, just describe the EML-2 Gateway as crossroads on the way to the asteroid. This is even true.

  • Egad

    SpaceRef points to an announcement of a follow-up hearing next Wednesday. Apparently it’s being held by the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics. It will be interesting to see which Members are there.

    =================================

    Hearing: The Future of NASA

    Perspectives on Strategic Vision for America’s Space Program

    Category: Aeronautics and Astronautics

    Event Format: Hearing

    Date: Wednesday, December 12, 2012

    Location: 2318 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515, US

    RESCHEDULED, WITNESSES ADDED (originally scheduled for Thursday December 6, 2012)

    The Future of NASA: Perspectives on Strategic Vision for America’s Space Program

    Witnesses

    - The Honorable Robert Walker, Wexler & Walker
    - Maj. Gen. Ronald Sega, USAF (Ret), Vice Chair, National Research Council Committee on NASA’s Strategic Direction
    - Ms. Marion C. Blakey, President & CEO, Aerospace Industries Association
    - Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen Ph.D, Associate Professor, Space Physics Research Laboratory, University of Michigan
    - Dr. Scott Pace, Ph.D, Director, Space Policy Institute, The George Washington University

    9:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.

    2318 Rayburn House Office Building (WEBCAST)

  • Robert G. Oler

    Well done Stephen I shared it on my facebook page. RGO

  • As I see it, the problem is that an L2 station and an asteroid don’t need manned missions. The goals of those missions can be achieved at far less cost and risk tele/robotically. The rationale for a manned mission just in case we need to learn how to divert a really big one is flawed statistically and also because we can achieve the same with a stand-off nuke or such. Those facts will undermine the rationale for manned missions there every year up to and beyond those missions.

    However, it does make sense that we should send human crew to increasing distances before going all the way to Mars. Although we don’t have to send humans to a specific destination on the way to Mars, it’s sort of a, “If we’re going to do it, might as well go some place specific just to make it interesting”. I’m OK with that but it can be difficult and risky to try and
    make that case.

    But the more fundamental problem is the canceling of the return to the Moon. Obama made a significant error in failing to recognize the value of utilizing the icy resources of the Moon to establish a lower-cost cis-lunar transportation infrastructure which would have salutary effects for both commercial and non-commercial space travel.

    Since the die is cast and a lot of money will be tied up with the Flexible Path for at least four years and possibly more, my best hope right now is that the public-private path would continue beyond CCDev to include Lunar COTS. But that’s probably going to require official leadership and I simply don’t know if that will be forthcoming. Hopefully so.

    • Coastal Ron

      DougSpace said:

      As I see it, the problem is that an L2 station and an asteroid don’t need manned missions.

      If all we want are science platforms, then I would agree. But that isn’t the intended purpose for the EML Station or the asteroid mission. As I interpret them, they are intended to be part of the Flexible Path, incrementally increasing our capabilities and operational competence beyond LEO.

      Obama made a significant error in failing to recognize the value of utilizing the icy resources of the Moon to establish a lower-cost cis-lunar transportation infrastructure which would have salutary effects for both commercial and non-commercial space travel.

      My background is in manufacturing, and from my perspective the amount of time and money it would have cost to establish such capabilities would have dwarfed the more simple path of using tankers supplied from Earth. Until there is local, robust demand for major supplies from the Moon, NASA’s meager budget is better spent on other exploration-related capabilities.

      But that’s probably going to require official leadership and I simply don’t know if that will be forthcoming.

      It’s not a lack of “leadership”. There is no consensus throughout the space community as a whole as to what we should do next, and that feeds into the foot-dragging that the NRC saw at NASA for implementing the asteroid plan.

      In truth, there is no “National Imperative” to do anything in space. The public is OK with science and exploration, but no one is demanding “more”, and Congress isn’t ready to provide more money. That means whatever NASA ends up doing has to be done within it’s existing budget, which is pretty meager. No one has come to grips with that yet, and when they do they will realize that NASA won’t be able to afford to use the SLS without a major increase in funding – which isn’t coming.

      Either there is a major realignment in what NASA is currently doing (i.e. kill the SLS), or NASA will be doomed to constant cycle of boom & bust activity that doesn’t get us out of LEO.

      My $0.02

    • Robert G. Oler

      But the more fundamental problem is the canceling of the return to the Moon. Obama made a significant error in failing to recognize the value of utilizing the icy resources of the Moon to establish a lower-cost cis-lunar transportation infrastructure which would have salutary effects for both commercial and non-commercial space travel.”

      and in that lies the problem

      A pretty solid guess on my part is that someone with a pay grade higher the Bolden but probably lower then the POTUS when they were figuring out what to do as the committee ended Cx…came to the conclusion that NASA could not do anything “low cost” under the current set of circumstances that things are done in.

      what has been surprising to me at least is that Bolden has not attempted to fix the money/performance link of SLS or Orion…I honestly do not see why both program cannot be done for 10 billion tops. You need new managers and a new way of doing business…but…

      RGO

  • Guest

    Since the die is cast and a lot of money will be tied up with the Flexible Path for at least four years and possibly more

    First of all Doug, Ares V and SLS and Orion and MPCV are not the ‘flexible path’ and there is no NASA line item for ‘flexible path’. There is some money for technology development but it is a rather small fraction of the NASA human space flight budget. You need to get your basic facts straight. The problem is SLS and MPCV, which being non-reusable, do not satisfy any of the criteria of the flexible path approach as laid out by the Augustine Committee.

  • Brett

    Is there any serious scientific, military, or economic reason to have a manned spaceflight program anymore?

    I have no doubt that a manned mission to Mars, for example, would have tremendous scientific benefits. But the cost-to-benefit ratio seems to be too steep, particularly when the unmanned probes are getting more capable and sophisticated. The US military largely abandoned any manned programs in the 1970s when it became clear that unmanned craft could fill the purposes they needed spacecraft for, and there’s real “market” for space travel aside from the commercial launch market in satellites and (maybe) some space tourism down the line.

    We’d get a lot more bang for our buck if we spent more money on the unmanned programs, but that seems to be impossible – and I suspect that all of them would face budget cuts if the manned program went under. NASA itself might not even survive the end of the manned program.

    • E.P. Grondine

      Hi Brett –

      In my opinion, yes. Myself and some other researchers (and yes, they are scientists with results published in peer reviewed and respected publications) have concluded that the comet impact hazard is far more serious than earlier thought.

      Thus the construction of the detectors for the Comet and Asteroid Protection on the Moon is both justified and necessary. There are no equivalent detectors that can be built unmanned elsewhere.

  • MSNBC.com has this article on the subject matter, including observations by James Oberg.

    “When you look at NASA’s program today, it’s not nearly as tightly focused” as it was during the Space Race, Oberg explained. “I think that’s a good thing, though, because we’ve gotten to a broader area of capabilities. So when they refer to some problems they see at NASA, to me those are problems not of aging, but of maturing.”

    But operating on many fronts has made it harder “to keep the political will focused,” Oberg conceded. NASA’s funding is appropriated by Congress, and with fights over the federal budget, increasing the agency’s funds is probably a political nonstarter.

    I like what Mr. Oberg had to say about commercial space:

    Oberg told Jansing Friday that other countries and private companies have been able to take advantage of NASA’s research and development. “That is a sign of the success of NASA’s technology in the past and it’s a sign of what it should be doing in the future, which is keep pushing new technologies, [and] keep the funding high enough to keep the right kind of people working there,” Oberg said.

    • Robert G. Oler

      Stephen. Jim O is a smart guy and his comments on jansing were pretty good…but only as far as they go.

      it is hard in my view to argue NASA has a money problem.

      They would like more money but …the lack of money is not what is keeping results “low”

      Its hard to argue that NASA needed more money for Cx when they spent nearly 3 times in constant dollars on the program that Gemini spent for the entire program….If for 5.5 billion in current dollars (well 2011 anyway) NASA could run the entire Gemini program its hard to argue that for 15 billion they needed more money to get Cx flying

      NASA IS NOT DOING CUTTING EDGE STUFF…at least in its large programs.

      The LM cost a lot of money to develop because it had never been done…it is not like the Orion is breaking a lot of technical ground here.

      The main focus on fixing NASA needs to be why it cost more to build Orion then it cost to build the ApollCM in constant dollars. I dont like WEbb but at least they are trying something “different”

      Until we can face the reality that the management at NASA couldnt build a toliet for a reasonable price…well then we are going to be stuck with that reality RGO

      • vulture4

        I would suggest that a main thrust should also be learning why the Shuttle cost so much more than anticipated. I personally feel one problem was the conceit that the magic of systems engineering could anticipate all problems and eliminate the need for flight testing at the prototype stage. The problems with the O-rings, TPS and ET foam were discovered in the first few flights, but at that point there was no way to change the design.

        In terms of NASA’s current mission, the central NACA mission of supporting the aviation industry was undermined by the lack of any fair mechanism for helping individual companies. Ironically the Space Act makes it possible to work out NASA-industry partnerships in any industry, including aviation, that are fair and beneficial to the participants, the rest of the industry, and the taxpayers.

        • Robert G. Oler

          vulture4
          December 8, 2012 at 10:39 pm · Reply

          I would suggest that a main thrust should also be learning why the Shuttle cost so much more than anticipated. I personally feel one problem was the conceit that the magic of systems engineering could anticipate all problems and eliminate the need for flight testing at the prototype stage.>>

          the shuttle costing more to operate does not surprise me really although it did take me about a decade to figure it out (of course I was in my 20′s and still learning about the world and aerospace) and long conversations with some people who were the age and experience I am now.

          NASA really tried to do something with the shuttle that people who were competent and experienced in engineering management should have know was impossible.

          The were going from knowledge of a throwaway technology/method of operation/and costing to trying to develop/operate/and keep prices low on a reusable system.

          At NASA they knew in the 1970′s about as much about how to do that as I know today about brain surgery…but that didnt stop them from trying.

          What started them killing people and cost rising in the late 80′s and continued throughout the program is that the people who started taking over the program had no real experience in anything except in a NASA HSF effort which was in transition (the one I note above)…these people are mostly ill trained to run either a test program or an operational one…and that became perfectly clear to me after Challenger.

          The O rings illustrate this (although I could pick a lot of examples). If the shuttle system had been a “test” program then they would have seen as they gained flight experience when the O rings worked and didnt work…and if they wanted to run the program with the known defect of the O rings; they would have started limiting when the vehicle was launched to operate in those narrowed (from specification) but still fairly decent windows that described safety.

          but they couldnt do that because the vehicle was a success only if it was “operational” and that requirement (whatever that meant) seem to smother any discussion of what those operational limits might be. See the last conversation before The folks in Utah succumb to the NASA induced pressure…and you get a sense for how bad that was.

          Of course along with that are simply goofy things. The Astronaut safety person (and for a bit thats Crippen) is a joke and the NASA safety office comical.. had they been at any airline today a Chief Pilot would have said “you are out of here” but of course the chief astronaut(s) at the time had no clue how to run an operational railroad either.

          The fix to the Orings is actually NASA at its declining best…some solid (with Thiokal/ATK) engineering was done…and some other things were fixed but really the culture never was. Wayne Hale is a good guy but he still doesnt understand what killed 14 people.

          NASA doesnt have a clue how to “operate” anything in terms of anything but test flights and that not so much anymore. See the latest discussion with SpaceX on their computer issue.

          A lot of people most of the SES group need to go out the door…and there needs to be a solid person who has a solid team who can force them to do something anything on a budget…make hard choices and make the right ones. Its done every day in the real world.

          RGO

          • vulture4

            I agree. Unfortunately we just fired everybody with hands-on experience on the Shuttle, so the “lessons learned” are mostly either superficial or in error.

            • Robert G. Oler

              there are no lessons from shuttle operations that need people who worked there to have input on. It is like SWA going to Brannif for advise on how to lose money RGO

              • vulture4

                I disagree. I agree we have nothing to learn from the managers. But the Shuttle engineers and techs I met over the years were experienced, meticulous, ingenious, and motivated. They all had ideas regarding why the cost of operation was so high. There were hundreds of maintenance tasks that could have been much simpler; i.e. the air vents leading to the interpane space in the windshield panels had dryer cartridges to prevent misting of the glass. The cartridges had to be changed between flights, and because they were buried under other lines it took 40 man-hours. Towards the end of the program they developed a method to heat the cartridge in place and regenerate it, saving thousands of dollars. People who worked on the SRB ships told me the program could have saved money by simply not recovering them; the offshore recovery and rebuilding process cost more than buying new boosters. After Columbia was lost the foam was improved and the amount of tile damage dropped dramatically.

                And the program was saddled with immense overhead, partly because it was easy to charge to it. The one time we launched an extra reflight with the same payload the marginal cost was only about $100M.

        • mike shupp

          “I personally feel one problem was the conceit that the magic of systems engineering…”

          And I personally feel one problem was that Richard Nixon and his OMB dictated to NASA that the shuttle development program should be stretched by about three years and the budget chopped by about a third to shrink the federal deficit — even though everyone in sight agreed this was going to raise shuttle’s operational costs. And i think another factor was that NASA didn’t have the manpower and the money to look at five different solutions for every problem that po[ed up to select the best, unlike Apollo. And another problem was that virtually everyone on that program thought of the shuttles as vehicles that would fly for nine or ten years max, and be replaced by better and cheaper 2nd generation vehicles because future progress in the space business was inevitable!

          Of course, I was just one of the dumn ass engineers working on the shuttle at Rockwell back in the 1970′s. I don’t have anything near your expertise or wisdom. So what would I know?

          • vulture4

            Hey, I respect your opinion and experience! I agree there were better design, and I agree completely that operational cost was sacrificed to lower development cost. But the cost projections were off by a factor of between 10 and 100. Some of the major problems in both cost and safety were apparently completely unanticipated during the design process. If you know of any evidence that the foam/TPS and O-ring problems were anticipated please say so. I agree that the Shuttle should have been replaced by a second generation RLV. It still should.

            • Robert G. Oler

              vulture4
              December 10, 2012 at 12:03 am

              On the wrench turner level that might be so…but no vehicle will ever be done like teh shuttle againl…as for recovery of the SRB’s that is a true statement. It cost more then it was worth at the flight rate and recycle cost that it took RGO

              • vulture4

                The problem was not reusability per se, but the fact that the SRBs had to be recovered at sea, completely disassembled, stripped to the bare metal, magnafluxed, replated with cadmium, reassembled, and repainted after every flight. As to whether no vehicle will ever be done like the Shuttle, I would be more confident in this if NASA still had anyone who remembered how it was done. There are some definite parallels in the program formerly known as Constellation.

              • Coastal Ron

                vulture4 said:

                As to whether no vehicle will ever be done like the Shuttle, I would be more confident in this if NASA still had anyone who remembered how it was done.

                Well, in the case of the SRM’s, NASA wouldn’t be the one to retain the knowledge of how to refurbish the SRM’s, it would be the manufacturer (ATK). And good manufacturers create and use very detailed manufacturing documentation for each step of their manufacturing process. As long as ATK’s assets are retained, the knowledge (for whatever reason) to build more Shuttle-sized SRM’s will be available.

            • mike shupp

              The foam/TPS problem wasn’t considered as such, as far as I know. The potential fragility of the wing leading edge certainly was, because I asked about it myself. “There’s a lot of hollow space back of that leading edge and then just ordinary aluminum. What happens if we get a bird strike.” (roughly — it’s been a few years) And the answer I got just about immediately was that a bird would be outside the boundary flow region so it COULDN’T hit the leading edge directly — air flow would sweep it over or under the wing.
              Remember, this was 4-5 years before the idea of spraying foam on the tank to provide insulation. Nobody had major concerns about stuff falling off that was already inside the boundary layer and striking the vehicle, so there weren’t tests of what might happen. Remember again, there wasn’t money for looking at barely concievable contingencies.

              O-Ring problems… that’s part of history. Engineers all over the place squawking about seal erosion, and managers all the place shouting “Put on your management hats.” Whether this is an engineering or a management problem, I will leave to you.

              The real killer on shuttle costs was the TPS — those heat absorbing tiles. That’s what actually drove the insane maintenance costs and required a “standing army” to tend the vehicle. But that’s a long excruciatingly dull tale, so I’ll forebear.

          • Robert G. Oler

            mike shupp
            December 9, 2012 at 4:27 pm · Reply

            As much as I agree with the basic notions of what you are saying…there is no real convincing evidence that NASA could have made any reusable vehicle operate in a cost effective manner.

            They and the contractors they were dealing with simply had no expertise in that area.

            ” And another problem was that virtually everyone on that program thought of the shuttles as vehicles that would fly for nine or ten years max, and be replaced by better and cheaper 2nd generation vehicles because future progress in the space business was inevitable!”

            well maybe I was a teenager and in college when the shuttle was being developed but while that might have been the notion amonth “virtually everyone on that program” it was not the notion of the decision makers at NASA or the political ones in DC.

            RGO

    • E.P. Grondine

      There is nothing wrong with an American company using technology developed by NASA.

      As far a “other countries” go, China generally uses Russian and European technology.

  • vulture4

    The US could use some Chinese technology to, if we could get beyond our silly xenophobia and our assumption that all their systems are copied from Russia. Check out the processing flow and launch service tower at Jiuquan, for instance. It uses some ideas from the US (the MLP) and some from Russia, but the overall design is distinct to Chinese launch sites and very efficient.

    • And then there was the xenophobe redneck who said to me the other day:

      “Why is Obama making our heroes fly with the Soviet Union?!”

      • It’s politically expedient to feed propaganda to folks like this so they can elect like-minded people to Congress in order to gridlock government and maintain status quo.

        And keep the NASA jobs programs funded in the NASA Center States.

    • It doesn’t seem to be doing much for China’s flight rate, Vulture…

    • Coastal Ron

      vulture4 said:

      The US could use some Chinese technology to

      Like what?

      The Chinese have already said they can’t match what SpaceX is doing, and so far they haven’t revealed any home-grown spacecraft of space hardware that shows they have moved significantly beyond their Soviet/Russian purchased designs.

      • vulture4

        None of the current Chinese launch vehicles or ground processing facilities are derived from Soviet designs. The Russians use only horizontal integration while the Chinese use only vertical integration. The Shenzou is superficially based on the Soyuz configuration but is almost entirely different at the component level; the orbital module, for example, has solar panels and can operate autonomously in orbit. The Chinese launch and entry suit is based on the Soviet design but the more complex Chinese EVA suit is indigenous. Finally, the Long March 5, the new Chinese heavy lift system, is a new design with little or nothing in common with Russian or US LVs, and the new launch site on Hainan is similarly a Chinese design.

        In comparison, both the Lockheed Atlas and OSC Antares use engines of Russian manufacture.

        • Robert G. Oler

          The Chinese launch and entry suit is based on the Soviet design but the more complex Chinese EVA suit is indigenous. >>

          I dont know if that is completely accurate RGO

      • Coastal Ron

        vulture4 wrote:

        Finally, the Long March 5, the new Chinese heavy lift system, is a new design with little or nothing in common with Russian or US LVs, and the new launch site on Hainan is similarly a Chinese design.

        Sure, there are some things that the Chinese are doing that is not derived from Soviet/Russian designs, but so far you haven’t pointed out anything that would cause us to say “gee, I wish we could buy that from China”. Even the Long March 5 will be surpassed by the Falcon Heavy (likely before the Long March 5 flies), and likely for a better price too.

        In comparison, both the Lockheed Atlas and OSC Antares use engines of Russian manufacture.

        I think competition is good, and I don’t mind buying tried & true designs or reconditioned parts from approved vendors. Besides, if Pratt & Whitney wanted the business, they could have made an effort – but they didn’t. That to me is not an indication that the Russians have better hardware, but that some of our larger aerospace companies have become too dependent on fat government business. With the new threat of competition from SpaceX, we’ll see if that brings change.

        • vulture4

          We could buy the only rides to the ISS for the next five years or so other than Soyuz. But I am not suggesting we buy anything from China unless we need it. I am suggesting we offer China full membership in the ISS program. The standard Chinese access stands provide full weather protection and full vehicle access, and can be retracted in a few minutes at T-1 hr. Competition would lower the price and provide assured access. China can also launch ISS modules, and afford to provide substantial logistics without US subsidies. Most importantly, it would build trust between potential adversaries, not just US-China but China-Japan and others.

          • Coastal Ron

            vulture4 wrote:

            We could buy the only rides to the ISS for the next five years or so other than Soyuz. But I am not suggesting we buy anything from China unless we need it. I am suggesting we offer China full membership in the ISS program.

            I’m OK with inviting China to join our efforts in space, including the ISS. Peace through partnership, and all that.

            However let’s remember that China’s space program is government run, and is not commercial in any way. I mention that because they cannot contribute to a robust, competitive market, since they are not able to abide by competitive pricing – if they wanted to dominate a market, they can run deficits for as long as they want.

            But if they want to contribute to the ISS, by all means.

  • josh

    nasa should concentrate on cots style initiatives for human spaceflight. set top level goals and incentives and let the private sector do the rest. cancel sls and mpcv and close down a couple of centers.

    a human asteroid mission based on sls/mpcv will never happen.

  • vulture4

    NASA can do research and development, both in-house and contract. The Space Act Agreement provides one thing NACA lacked; a fair and transparent mechanism for NASA to assist US aircraft and aerospace manufacturers to become more competitive in commercial markets. But NASA should ask industry what new technologies are needed, not the other way around.

    • common sense

      “But NASA should ask industry what new technologies are needed, not the other way around.”

      Unfortunately, NASA does not want to ask. NASA wants to be asked.

      Someone once posted about the worst divas working at NASA…

      FWIW.

  • E.P. Grondine

    We could have had DIRECT and two manned launch systems for the money that was wasted on Ares 1, with no disruption to our tech base.

    • Neil Shipley

      There hasn’t been any disruption to the tech base. The tech became outmoded. STS developed nothing new in terms of lv’s over the decades it was flying and it proved to be a very expensive dead-end.
      The money’s spent. Time to get over it and move along.

  • JimNobles

    We could have had DIRECT and two manned launch systems for the money that was wasted on Ares 1, with no disruption to our tech base.

    While the insurrection from within NASA that produced the impressive work that became known as “DIRECT” was able to show that Constellation was too expensive and unnecessary it was unable to make a case for itself. DIRECT was obviously better than Constellation but IMO was not enough of an improvement to replace the program of record. Why? The old tech, the legacy costs of operations, and many other things.

    I am grateful for the work the DIRECT team did. But what they mainly accomplished was bringing to light the absurdities of the program they hoped to replace but ultimately could not.

    • Absolutely correct, Jim, as indicated by the Augustine Committee.

    • Coastal Ron

      JimNobles wrote:

      While the insurrection from within NASA that produced the impressive work that became known as “DIRECT” was able to show that Constellation was too expensive and unnecessary it was unable to make a case for itself.

      Good summary, and that pretty much sums up what I experienced as a DIRECT enthusiast when I started coming to Space Politics many years ago. Through the efforts of and many posters, who educated me on the various cost structures of the Shuttle and other programs, I eventually came to understand what you wrote in your post.

      I think the DIRECT team did a good job, but it wasn’t needed and it still would have been too expensive of a system to operate.

  • Aberwys

    Agreed on the divas at NASA point. The fact is many of those divas are not seen as divas in academia or in the tech industry.

    In fact, NASA lags academia by about 5-8 years. Carbon nanotubes are sooo 2003.

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