NASA

Ten (and three) years later…

Today marks the tenth anniversary of the loss of the space shuttle Columbia and its seven person crew. A lot has been, and will be, said about the accident itself and its aftermath. The accident, though, also ushered in an era of uncertainty in space policy, particularly in regards to human spaceflight, that arguably still persists to this day.

The accident, of course, immediately derailed the plans to quickly finish assembling the International Space Station, plans that created schedule pressure later identified as a contributing factor in the Columbia accident. Less than a year later, though, it looked like we had that certainty back, in the form of President George W. Bush’s speech in January 2004 unveiling the Vision for Space Exploration. We would return the shuttle to flight, use it long enough to complete the ISS and then retire it, and then bring in a next-generation crew transportation system that would return humans to the Moon by 2020.

It didn’t work out that way: while the vision was in place, the funding didn’t follow, particularly for NASA’s chosen approach to implement that new transportation, Constellation. “I think the previous administration’s plans to go to the Moon was a great vision, but only poets plan strategy without a budget,” said Joan Johnson-Freese, a professor of national security affairs at the Naval War College, put it at the recent Baker Institute forum on space policy. “The Obama Administration, quite frankly, was right to pull the plug” on Constellation, she concluded.

But the Obama Administration’s plans, rolled out three years ago today, also met with opposition, resulting in the compromise enacted in the form of the 2010 NASA Authorization Act that October. And even those plans look questionable today, thanks to changing fiscal environment. In that fiscal year 2011 budget proposal released exactly three years ago, the administration projected NASA’s budget to grow from $19 billion in FY11 to just under $20 billion in FY13, and on to nearly $21 billion in FY15. Today, with the FY13 budget still not resolved, $20 billion looks like a fantasy: anything around NASA’s FY12 appropriation of about $17.7 billion would be considered a major victory. Another gap between strategy and budgets is looming.

It’s easy to trace the chain of events back to the Columbia accident, but it’s also fair to ask how different events would have been without the accident. At first glance, it appears there would have been more certainty, especially in the near term: NASA would have continued with the assembly of the ISS at its planned brisk pace, completing the station much sooner. But after that? Things are less clear. At the time of the accident, NASA was embarking on the Space Launch Initiative (SLI), an effort to develop a second-generation reusable launch vehicle, but was also investigating ways to extend the life of the Space Shuttle to perhaps 2020. Would NASA have continued SLI, or would it have suffered the fate of previous RLV development efforts? And how long would NASA have tried to keep flying the shuttles? When, and how, would plans for human spaceflight beyond LEO emerge?

The Columbia accident put NASA’s human spaceflight efforts on a wandering path, from the Vision for Space Exploration to the Obama Administration’s plans to the current-day uncertainty of just what NASA will be able to afford to do. However, the accident didn’t cause that uncertainty so much as trigger events that have since been carried by an underlying uncertainty, one that arguably existed even before the accident, of just what NASA’s human spaceflight program should be doing, and why.

94 comments to Ten (and three) years later…

  • DougSpace

    If NASA is going to recover certainty under a constrained budget then the large development programs that tend to be budget hogs need to go. In their place should be the much more cost-effective public-private approaches as well as smaller steps in a campaign. Telerobotic missions to the lunar poles followed by manned missions to oversee the extraction of lunar resources seems to me to be the right combination of approaches which will get us back on a track of progress and developing skills and resources to permanently open the entire solar system.

  • guest

    It is well beyond time to put forward an achievable plan. Back at the time of ESAS for some reason NASA went off half cocked thinking they were going to repeat Apollo. No one knows why except maybe Dr. Griffin. Was that his plan to reset the clock to 1970? The money was never in his plan. And we all know how Apollo turned out so why we needed to start where we left off was always questionable. The Apollo was not a particularly safe system, something the NASA managers of the time knew well and they did not want Apollo to become a lasting monument to the loss of life in exploration. The lessons NASA should have learned from Apollo, and Skylab and let languish all thru Shuttle was the idea that NASA is there to develop and advance technology. In doing so they can achieve pioneering firsts. The NASA human space focus was always on flying that next flight, and it wasn’t like the days of the X-15 or the earlier X-planes where they were always expanding the envelope. The Shuttle envelope was established within a few years into the program. It might have led to something better, but if the sole focus is on increasing the budget in order to maintain the status quo, then the program management is failing just as certainly as they lost Columbia due to management failure. They seem to be doing exactly the same thing today. They want to keep, maintain and even grow the ISS budget even though the big activities of design, development, and assembly were over years ago and they are not doing anything new. Why? Isn’t it time to shift that funding to new development endeavors? They have a good basis in ISS elements and systems to build next generation modules and vehicles but they seem to be content to sit on their laurels. The NASA human space management needs a big kick in the rear and get them moving to develop an achievable plan. If the people who are there today, and they’ve been there for many years, cannot do the job then its time to find someone who can and will.

  • E. P. Grondine

    Hi Jeff – On Columbia, Oberg’s piece on 10 myths over at MSNBC is one of the better pieces of reporting I’ve seen on it. It’s close to right, but still not there yet.

    Jeff, in your summary of events you did not mention that Obama’s initial choice for NASA Administrator was blocked.

    Bolden had worked as a lobbyist for ATK.

    As for this:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reusable_Booster_System

    You have to remember that ATK will do what it can to kill any alternative that does not include it, and has done this for years. They want to eliminate any competition for the 2017 SLS booster.

    Essentially, ATK holds Michoud and Marshall captive, at least until someone down there has guts enough to say enough.

    Note also the use of that NASA SLI tech in SpaceX engines.

    This all still leaves open the question of why Griffin shut down the NLS, and started Ares 5.

    • amightywind

      Obama’s initial choice for NASA Administrator was blocked.

      Who, pray tell, was that?

      • Scott Gration.

        You ignoramus.

        • Robert G. Oler

          Rand Simberg
          February 1, 2013 at 8:03 pm · Reply

          Scott Gration.>>

          Hard to know how that would have worked…When I did my last “tour of Africa” he was Ambassador Kenya and due to his background but also his personal talents I thought had some interesting insights into US policy in Africa; particularly in respect to the emergence of several nations there which have coherent governments and are becoming reasonable regional powers.

          I was on the face of those what four months in Africa pretty impressed with him particularly in the policy aspects. He was one of the people who was helping put together the mix that is African security right now; US forces doing the logistics/intel/airplanes, The French doing the real muscle work in terms of actual combat and a few of the regional powers acting as the FOG (forces on the ground).

          However, some people who I knew (not well but knew) both in the Embassy at kenya and in Ethiopia were less then impressed with his organizational skills. The rumor was that the embassy in Kenya and some other things he was in charge of were in chaos when he left..About the only place I did not go in Africa was Benin…Kolker had the situation well in hand there.

          Sort of a mixed bag. RGO

  • IMAC

    To those harping on about HSF capability in New v. Oldspace, so far the former has yet to kill anyone. The systematically high risk accepted from cradle to grave in the Shuttle program ensured that people would die. NASA continues to operate in its own special cultural wasteland where safety is the word, if not the action of the day. The gulf between original pitch, design and implemented system grows ever larger for most of these projects, and this reality disconnect is what really needs to change.

    Sure Congress could give them more money, but faulty decision making and ineffective organizational systems will keep bringing us back to blue ribbon commissions and accident review boards.

    • SirThoreth

      “To those harping on about HSF capability in New v. Oldspace, so far the former has yet to kill anyone.”

      That’s a bit of a misleading statement: “New” space also hasn’t *flown* anyone yet. Companies like SpaceX have made some impressive achievements (personally, I’ve found what Dragon’s done to be phenomenal), but to say they haven’t killed anyone yet when they’ve also sent anyone up is disingenuous.

  • amightywind

    $17.7 billion is more than enough funding for a great space program. The problem is the horses have been fouling the stalls at NASA for 50 years and they need cleaning out. Management must make some decisions. Some non-core programs must die so that others (like SLS) may live.

    • JimNobles

      Some non-core programs must die so that others (like SLS) may live.
      .
      Since NASA is not a LEO Transportation Agency I don’t think SLS should rightfully be described as a core program of the agency. It is time to get back to basics and the American way of doing things. As far as possible let the private sector provide the hardware and services and let NASA be the customer. For a long time NASA ran a Space Transportation System because the private sector wasn’t ready to do it. Now times have changed.

      It is not the best use of NASA’s funds to run an orbital trucking company or be some sort of National Olympic Rocket Launching Team. It is time to let the private sector do what it is best at and time to let NASA do the things only it can do.

      We have seen the future of routine Earth to LEO transportation and it is commercial.

    • DCSCA

      “$17.7 billion is more than enough funding for a great space program.”

      If Congress can blow $2 billion a week in Afghanistan, an even $20 billion/yr., would be even better, Windy.

      • The money CERTAINLY exists! Imagine if some of that ole Iraq/Afganistan war spending currency would somehow make its way into the space arena instead? We could then add another eight billion bucks to it, just saving on a one-month-span expense projection, on the Afganistan conflict. When dumb liberals say that “the country cannot afford a big space program right now, because of the bad economy”, I really have to scoff at all that!!

        • vulture4

          Liberals like me, who campaiged directly with the pulic as part of the L-5 society? Liberals like Clinton who actually got ISS built? Liberals like Kennedy and Johnson who got us to the moon, an effort which Nixon ended? Conservatives like Reagan who “called for” an international space station and never funded it? Or like GWB who did the same for Apollo Revisited?

          No one transfers money directly from one government program to another; each has to fight for every dollar. In terms of funding, conservatives’ first priority is tax cuts, not space.

          I don’t recommend casting space as a liberal vs conservative issue.

          • Liberals like Kennedy and Johnson who got us to the moon, an effort which Nixon ended?

            The decision to shut down production on Apollo was made in 1967. Nixon had nothing to do with it.

            • DCSCA

              “The decision to shut down production on Apollo was made in 1967. Nixon had nothing to do with it.” fibbed Rand.

              Inaccurate. Saturn production was suspended in 1967; it was the Nixon Administration that officially and permanently terminated Saturn production for fiscal 1970, slashed operations budgets and effective truncated the Apollo program by cancelling the last three planned lunar flights even though the hardware was already bought and paid for, and re-directrd space policy to LEO ops even though the harsware was purchased . This is a matter of public record; it is history and clearly documented at the apace agency. The Nixon administration ended the Apollo program. Stop trying to re-write it to proterct your ideology. =eyeroll=

              • Coastal Ron

                DCSCA said:

                Saturn production was suspended in 1967

                Suspending production is as good as canceling a production run, and in many cases suspension is just one of the first of many steps taken as part of a cancellation. Once the line was suspended the workers would have been reassigned, making a production restart pretty hard.

                You wouldn’t know that, never having been in manufacturing (my professional field), but it pretty much means that Johnson did in fact start the cancellation process, and Nixon did not reverse it. Kind of like Obama getting the blame for canceling the Shuttle, because some said he could have kept it going when he became President, even though the production lines were already being shut down for critical components.

                Besides, isn’t it time for you to move on to the 21st century, instead of obsessing over stuff that happened last century?

    • Dark Blue Nine

      “Management must make some decisions. Some non-core programs must die so that others (like SLS) may live.”

      NASA management doesn’t get to make those decisions. The White and Congress do.

  • DCSCA

    In Memoriam-
    The crew of STS-107, Columbia
    Lost February 1, 2003

    Rick Husband
    Willy McCool
    Dave Brown
    Kalpana “K.C.” Chawla
    Michael Anderson
    Laurel Clark
    Ilan Ramon

    Ad Astra
    ..

  • amightywind

    Since NASA is not a LEO Transportation Agency I don’t think SLS should rightfully be described as a core program of the agency.

    Since access to LEO is a prerequisite to *EO, I think it is, as do most Americans.

    For a long time NASA ran a Space Transportation System because the private sector wasn’t ready to do it

    The private sector built Apollo and the space shuttle. NASA operated the vehicles, in the same way that the military does. I suggest SLS work the same way. With SLS, finally, we are in the position to realize that future that might have been in the 70′s with a vibrant Saturn V capability.

    • common sense

      “NASA operated the vehicles, in the same way that the military does.”

      I did not know that the military designed the F-4, F-15, F-22, etc. And then operated the vehicles.

      Interesting.

    • Coastal Ron

      amightywind said:

      The private sector built Apollo and the space shuttle. NASA operated the vehicles…

      If by “operate”, you mean did all the work to make the Shuttle operational, then no, United Space Alliance (USA) did that. USA was responsible for the operation and processing of NASA’s Space Shuttle fleet and International Space Station at Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center and John F. Kennedy Space Center.

      So if the private sector has most of the skillset to build space transportation systems, and they are the ones that NASA has relied upon to operate and process space transportation systems, then what exactly is NASA’s contribution? All NASA needs to do it publish an RFQ for transportation services, or just put it underneath their existing NASA Launch Services (NLS) contract.

      The government (i.e. those few in Congress that have NASA work in their districts) has never asked the private sector if they can take care of NASA’s unfunded/imaginary SLS-type needs, but the private sector has already stated publicly that they can – and in fact they already are, since NASA isn’t building it’s own hardware, the private sector is. So the only question is whether the private sector can run a successful transportation system, and the answer to that is a resounding YES. Far better than NASA can, since NASA lost 40% of the Shuttle fleet under their watch. How many airlines keep operating after 40% of the fleet has crashed?

      But the first order of business is to define the requirements – what is it that NASA needs to get to space? Until that is defined, and funded, then building any new transportation systems is premature. And that is why the SLS should be killed, because it doesn’t meet the needs of any defined or funded programs. In other words, it is a rocket to nowhere.

    • JimNobles

      With SLS, finally, we are in the position to realize that future that might have been in the 70′s with a vibrant Saturn V capability.
      .
      I can understand the appeal of wanting to re-live the hopes, dreams , and glories of the heady days of Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo. Only this time doing it right and not letting it falter like we did before. I can truly understand that as I am of that age myself.

      But, Amightywind, this is the 21st century and we can accomplish so much more now. There’s no need to build a souped-up version of the Saturn V and pursue the after-Apollo architecture that we read about in the sixties and seventies.

      I bought the magazines and I cut out the pictures and I built the Revell models. Back when model glue was the good stuff. But if we try to re-do that past we run the very real risk of losing again. There were solid reasons for the space program’s sputtering stop after Apollo. We MUST NOT go down that road again. The circumstances that created and supported the old space program as long as they did just don’t really exist any more. We can’t do things the same way. It won’t work.

      Let the ideals that make America work in the long run now be used to make our space program work in the long run. We are a free enterprise system. I think our very best chance to succeed is to let our space program benefit as much as possible from that same system. Let NASA do what only it can and let American enterprises do the rest. Not only will NASA get more bang for its taxpayer dollars, private enterprise will have the opportunity to create more products and services that have the potential to advance us faster and in broader ways.

      Amightwind, I address this to you but I also address it to those who may never post and who I may never meet. Some of you may be invested in SLS in different ways and therefore may not be in a position to look at the situation impartially. But some people reading this may not be invested in a particular system but are still wondering what this fuss is all about. Just think of this: This is the future now and we can do things we really couldn’t realistically consider doing even 25 years ago. There is no need to do things in a way that didn’t really work out in the long run the first time.

      Let the American system work. Let NASA do what only it can do and let American enterprise do the rest. We no longer have to beat the Soviets to the moon cost-be-damned. We can now do things the right way, leveraging free-enterprise and all the advantages it brings. We don’t have to falter and fail again. Let the free-enterprise system work.

      • DCSCA

        There’s no need to build a souped-up version of the Saturn V and pursue the after-Apollo architecture that we read about in the sixties and seventies.

        The geo-politics suggest otherwise. And it’s simplistic to simply label it an Apollo redux.

        • Agreed! One could certainly harp about the ISS being Skylab-redux, or the Dragon spacecraft being the Progress/Soyuz redux. (And when they finally put a crew on board the Dragon, we could call it Gemini-redux.)

          • when they finally put a crew on board the Dragon, we could call it Gemini-redux

            We could call it that, if we were stupid. And if you think that Gemini carried seven crew. And was capable of entering the atmosphere from escape velocity.

            But unlike some, most of us aren’t that ignorant about Gemini and Dragon.

          • DCSCA

            “One could certainly harp about the ISS being Skylab-redux, or the Dragon spacecraft being the Progress/Soyuz redux. (And when they finally put a crew on board the Dragon, we could call it Gemini-redux.)” mused Chris.

            Yep. Such is the Magnified Importance of Diminished vision. Vur keep in mind, what’s really in play here has little to do w/spaceflgiht ops and everything to do with the ideoloues dedicated ot privatizing as much of the government as possible.

        • Dark Blue Nine

          “The geo-politics suggest otherwise.”

          What “geo-politics [sic]“? For the “geo-politics [sic] suggest otherwise”, then SLS has to have an effect on international political balance. Or an impact on national territory.

          It’s doing neither.

          “And it’s simplistic to simply label it an Apollo redux.”

          Agreed. It’s Apollo minus the lander. It’s Apollo minus the service module production line. It’s Apollo minus a capsule light enough for reentry. It’s Apollo minus the budget. It’s Apollo minus the lunar goal.

          It’s Apollo minus pretty much everything that made Apollo, Apollo.

      • amightywind

        I don’t have any financial interest in SLS (nee Ares). I just want to see it fly. I miss launch day at the Cape…

        • JimNobles

          I don’t have any financial interest in SLS (nee Ares). I just want to see it fly. I miss launch day at the Cape…
          Fair enough.

    • Dark Blue Nine

      “Since access to LEO is a prerequisite to *EO,”

      It’s not. It’s called an escape trajectory.

      “I think it is, as do most Americans.”

      No, a majority of Americans (54%) think that private companies should “run the country’s manned space missions in the future”. Only 38% think that the government should.

      http://spaceksc.blogspot.com/2013/01/poll-position.html

  • DCSCA

    “…it looked like we had that certainty back, in the form of President George W. Bush’s speech in January 2004 unveiling the Vision for Space Exploration.”

    Be advised, ‘it looked like we had that’ 15 years earlier in the form of George H.W. Bush’s speech in July, 1989, delivered on the steps of the NASM w/t Apollo 11 crew behind him as well. The legacy from that speech is a postage stamp.

    Soaring CIC speeches on space mean little without the down-to-earth work of the follow through. JFK and LBJ did that. Pappy and Dubya did not. And pretty much all the CICs since the Apollo era have kept civil space on the back burner until pressed to react.

    • Project Apollo during the Cold War was as the Manhattan Project during WWII, both were money dumps into advancing technology to the point where the U.S. had indisputable military superiority and defeat an (any) opponent.

      Since then (1989) there has been no need to expend funds in such projects, especially human space programs and the public could care less.

      NASA needs to return to it’s NACA roots to match the flat budgets they’ll likely receive for the foreseable future. And form international partnerships. It’s the only way the organization will survive and accomplish realistic goals.

      • DCSCA

        NASA needs to return to it’s NACA roots to match the flat budgets they’ll likely receive for the foreseable future.

        Then you advocate a reactive stance that falls behind- which is where the NACA/NASA people were: behind; All the STG had were plans. The cash dump got things off the drawing boards and the race was on– a reactive race to catch up.

    • E. P. Grondine

      Houston really let the President down that time.

  • DCSCA

    “I think the previous administration’s plans to go to the Moon was a great vision, but only poets plan strategy without a budget,” said Joan Johnson-Freese.”

    Not really.

    Dr. Thomas O. Paine saw it differently. First you define the goal, then find the budget to finance it and make it happen, not the other way around.

    • Coastal Ron

      DCSCA confusedly said:

      Not really.

      Funny how you look for any reason to disagree, but you end up agreeing with the person you think you are disagreeing with. Weird.

      Nevertheless, the SLS is not only in the same pickle as the Constellation program was (i.e. underfunded and going way over budget), but it’s even worse since there is no known use for the SLS – no “projects of scale” in DCSCA-speak. And no funding for any SLS-sized payloads or missions, which is something even you admit needs to be in place.

      Glad to see you are finally agreeing that the SLS is the wrong rocket for this point in time for NASA.

    • Robert G. Oler

      DCSCA
      February 1, 2013 at 7:21 pm · Reply
      .

      Dr. Thomas O. Paine saw it differently. First you define the goal, then find the budget to finance it and make it happen, not the other way around.>>

      so what happens to “the goal” when there is no public support to finance it? RGO

  • Robert G. Oler

    The problem with “the vision” is that really it was like every other solution that the Bush43 administration came up to for problems in this century, it was a rerun of what Republican administrations, mostly Reagan tried in the last century; and not done very well at that.

    Bush43 and his twits really had no clue about the issues that are confronting this country post the cold war. They were amazingly good at seeing yesterdays solutions in todays problems. Hence Iraq became either the Soviets or Nazi Germany and when Columbia went bang; well lets go back to the Moon>

    Problem of course is that this is not 20-30 years ago at least when he (Bush43) was in office. 9/11 was not Pearl Harbor and Iraq was not the Soviets and there was an remains even today no real reason to go back to the Moon THAT IS WORTH THE COST SUCH AN EFFORT IN THE CONVENTIONAL NASA way would take.

    In fact for the 15 billion that Griffin and his baffoons spent, well nothing happened. If for 15 billion Griffin and his dancing band of idiots had managed to at least you know get a crewed or resupply vehicle that could replace Shuttle then one could argue “success” …but really nothing came of that money ; and the nation is just lucky that it had commercial cargo and crew waiting in the wings.

    15 billion is a lot of money; Gemini in 2010 dollars, the entire program cost 5 billion…

    But the other malady of the Bush43 administration was that they hired at almost all levels baffoons. Just as everything Bush43 and his twits said about Iraq was wrong; almost everything Griffin and his twits did was equally flawed.

    The vision and the loss of Columbia go hand in hand. they are both the result of people who didnt know the heck what they were doing. Goofy RGO

  • Robert G. Oler

    http://www.spudislunarresources.com/blog/a-space-pseudo-program/

    Paul’s best days seem behind him, he seems to be like McCain just sour pickle now. RGO

    • amightywind

      Thanks for the link to Paul’s thoughtful essay. He’s a guy I’d like to see leading NASA planetary exploration.

    • joe

      Amazingly, at least to a lot of us, that is the way you seem.

      I guess it is all a matter of perspective.

      Spudis’s past/present accomplishments are a matter of record. Perhaps you would like to remind everyone of yours.

      • Robert G. Oler

        joe
        February 2, 2013 at 5:35 pm · Reply

        Amazingly, at least to a lot of us, that is the way you seem.>>

        Paul S has gotten nothing right in space policy for well at least 13 years…I have gotten almost everything correct.

        Couple that with the reality that Paul is living in a world that it was clear to most, stopped working about oh 13 years ago.

        RGO

        • joe

          Interesting a priori assertions (along with the usual insults), care to present anything a little more fact based?

          The number of missions you have sponsored?

          You know that sort of pointless/useless stuff.

        • amightywind

          I’d say PS is the foremost lunar scientist in the world. Since the moon is a likely target for manned exploration, I’d say his opinion carries weight.

          • Coastal Ron

            amightywind blushed:

            I’d say PS is the foremost lunar scientist in the world.

            No doubt, he is an acknowledge geologist and lunar scientist.

            I’d say his opinion carries weight.

            If the topic is the composition of lunar material, and it’s history, no doubt.

            But regarding the best way to expand human presence out into space, he his opinions don’t carry much (if any) weight. For instance, he fails to understand “why” politicians fund government programs, and he has an unnatural obsession with the Bush VSE.

    • Coastal Ron

      Robert G. Oler said:

      Paul’s best days seem behind him, he seems to be like McCain just sour pickle now.

      An apt description. He is so anti-commercial that he is deluded into thinking that Apollo was the model for how we’ll expand our presence out into space. And he still thinks the Cold War exists.

      Though he may represent a small minority of like thinkers, luckily they are a small minority and lack any influence in government – which ironically is where they need influence, since everything they depend upon has to come from politicians. Imagine that, looking to politicians for inspiration! LOL

  • JimNobles

    Here is something that is maybe worth thinking about, totally hypothetical, even impossible.

    What if some supreme higher authority ordered NASA, right now, to stop building any earth launched rockets? What would we have left to work with?

    One working cargo launcher with the capability to be upgraded to lift up to seven people within the next 2-3 years.

    Another cargo only rocket of near the same class with the potential of being operational within a year.

    Two other passenger vehicles in work with the possibility of being operational in 3-5 years. Their launcher(s) being essentially already operational and carrying cargo.

    A 50+ ton launcher with the potential of being operational within 4 years, maybe less.

    A wild-card launch and passenger system with unknown potential but rumored to be designed to have the same basic capabilities as the manned systems already listed.

    That’s an impressive list. And I won’t even go into how little the American taxpayers had to invest in them compared to what they have expected to invest in these types of systems in the past.

    If SLS ceased to exist tomorrow we would be in decent shape. One company has publicly stated that they could build a heavy lifter at substantial taxpayer savings over the cost of the SLS. Possibly so low that even if NASA was only allowed to keep about 25% of the monies needed for SLS it could be enough to acquire that commercial heavy lifter.

    Now I ask, do we need to continue with SLS? Or should we instead proceed with a more commercial COTS-like scheme? Which has been better for the taxpayer and the space program?

  • Robert G. Oler

    OK process question…how do I add a picture? Robert G. Oler

  • vulture4

    SLS/Orion seems like a poor value indeed for the money it will cost, unfortunately it has its staunch supporters. Little of its technology is transferable, so continuation may be spending “good money after bad”. If it is to be dropped, the sooner the better.

  • guest

    SLS/Orion…has its staunch supporters.
    I think mainly what it has are one or two Congressman from Alabama an a couple other places who want to make sure money continues to flow. I don’t think they see the need for the vehicles, because no one has yet explained what that need is based on.
    If NASA and its supporters put together a meaningful plan that also spread the money around, and maybe even a little more money, then I think there could be a lot more supporters.
    That NASA does nothing, strategizes nothing, has no serious plan for what it wants to accomplish, is the issue. That is a failure of the NASA management and really of the supporters too.

  • guestagain

    http://www.spudislunarresources.com/blog/a-space-pseudo-program/

    “Paul’s best days seem behind him, he seems to be like McCain just sour pickle now. RGO”

    Actually I think Paul’s latest is right on the mark and needs to be recognized and stated. Its unfortunate that his statement is a sour one, but if you keep in mind, for those of us, like Paul, who experienced Apollo, we are quickly losing the opportunity to see any kind of an ambitious mission, project or destination realized in the remainder of our lifetimes. And lets face it, we have not seen a lot accomplished since Shuttle launched or ISS was designed-both of those occurred more than a generation ago. The ISS manufacture was largely done elsewhere and not in the US, and the assembly was a sort of a big yawn mainly because it occurred over so long a period of time. (Even IMAX, who was once going to film the entire thing in IMAX vision, bowed out after the first 5 years.)

    Paul’s point is all about the famous historian Daniel Boorstin’s statement that genuine accomplishment was being gradually replaced by what he termed the “pseudo-event. It describes the current space program which has more to do with announcing future plans than with actually doing any planning or accomplishing any milestones on the way to accomplishment.

    From what I can see within the confines of the oldspace NASA program it also applies to many of the people in the program. Thirty or forty years ago when you saw the program managers, designers, flight directors and astronauts, most of us knew who they were by their accomplishments. They did important things and that got them recognized and placed into positions of authority. Today I look at most of these people and their chief claim to fame is that they were promoted into positions of authority-not that they ever accomplished anything to get themselves there. This, to me explains guest’s comments about why we see no plans, and no goals and no strategy. Why would we expect such out the current leadership. None of them ever showed their ability to establish goals or plans or strategies previously so why would we expect that today?

    • we are quickly losing the opportunity to see any kind of an ambitious mission, project or destination realized in the remainder of our lifetimes.

      Nonsense. It just won’t be done by NASA.

      • DCSCA

        “Nonsense. It just won’t be done by NASA.” boasted Magnified Importance of Diminished Vision and false equivalency proponent Rand.

        Except it won’t. LEO is a ticket to no place, going in circles, no where, fast. And commercial has failed to launch orbit and safely return anybody whereas NASA has been putting people into space for over half a century- including trips to the moon. It’s 2013. Fly somebody. Tick-tock, tick-tock.

        • Coastal Ron

          DCSCA cried:

          Except it won’t.

          Apparently you haven’t noticed the historical trend here – Apollo was an anomaly, not the pattern for the future.

          If NASA-led space exploration was supposedly pre-destined to be, then why hasn’t anything happened in the 40 years since we last left the Moon? Hmm?

          I don’t know when it will happen, but I do know that we won’t expand our presence out into space by relying on NASA’s puny $18B/year budget, so that leaves the opportunity wide open for everyone but NASA. And since the only ones with the motivation and skill to make space a place of work instead of a “Flags & Footprints” photo-op is the commercial sector, I back the commercial sector. You know, the ones that are increasing the amount of money they are spending on space? Whereas NASA’s average budget in real dollars has been declining for decades.

          But go ahead, back an agency that is forced to spend $3B/year on a rocket that it can’t afford to use. Go ahead and wait for a politician to utter those magic of words “We’re Going Back To The Moon”. You keep waiting decades for that “special” moment where you can relive your youth.

          In the meantime, the commercial sector will keep making slow an steady progress, and one day you will actually start cheering for them – because they will be the ones flying people to space, and they will be the ones standing on the Moon, and you will finally realize that you were rooting for the wrong thing the whole time – that you should have been rooting for the commercial sector that made Apollo happen, not the government agency that happened to be given the honor of putting their logo on the side of the vehicles.

        • JimNobles

          It’s 2013. Fly somebody. Tick-tock, tick-tock.

          Right now it looks like the next people to fly into orbit on an American system will be company employees rather than civil servants. And years before the government system is scheduled to fly anyone.

          What will you say then? “Commercial hasn’t sent anyone to the moon! C’mon, get someone there. Tick-tock, tick-tock.”
          Is that they way this tick-tock thing works?

    • Robert G. Oler

      guestagain
      February 2, 2013 at 2:58 pm · Reply

      Actually I think Paul’s latest is right on the mark and needs to be recognized and stated. Its unfortunate that his statement is a sour one, but if you keep in mind, for those of us, like Paul, who experienced Apollo, we are quickly losing the opportunity to see any kind of an ambitious mission, project or destination realized in the remainder of our lifetimes.>>

      Paul’s problem is well a lot like McCain’s…ie he is trying to recreate the glory of a world that only gets better with time.

      Apollo was never about nor even capable of the things that Spudis (and to an amazing extent I and most space activist) want. Those who think that the infrastructure of Apollo could have “graduated” to something else also assume that there is at the end of Apollo similiar amounts of money to throw at it…as during the time when Apollo had some foundation in terms of national policy. There was no way that 1 or 2 Saturn launches a year, must less the large number that some infrastructure on the Moon needs, was going to be funded…it simply was to expensive for the results that were likely to be achieved.

      In the time period since Apollo, not only do the same old problems of cost V rewards still exist; but NASA has gotten worse in terms of being able to get a dollars worth for a dollar.

      Spudis never acknowledges that CX was going nowhere we had spent 15 billion dollars and there was nothing but that stupid Ares X or whatever it was called and that cost 3/4 of a billion alone.

      In McCain’s case McCain cannot acknowledge that American power absent another superpower threat has its limits in terms of promoting reasonable diplomatic change. But he still bangs away at cold war solutions.

      Spudis is there with space spending and policy. He cannot grasp that we are going to do great things (Simberg is correct here) but not only done very different, but very different things.

      Even if the circumstances of the politics of Apollo were to return (and they wont) there is that matter of 15 billion dollars for nothing. RGO

      • guestagain

        “Spudis never acknowledges that CX was going nowhere” RGO

        I don’t think this is true if I’ve followed Spudis’ efforts over the last several years.
        Paul was part of the architectural definition effort prior to Griffin and ESAS. Progress was slow, but I don’t think he or most of the people involved in that effort ever forgave Griffin for hijacking the process and going in the ESAS/Constellation direction as I don’t think any of the architects felt that was supportable. Another significant different was that Spudis has always been about in situ resource utilization which was not what Constellation was about.

        Now Spudis is behind the cis-lunar first movement which is all about opening up near earth orbit, higher earth orbits, and then lunar space before we get back to major efforts on the surface.

        • Robert G. Oler

          guestagain
          February 2, 2013 at 11:02 pm

          thanks for the serious give and take

          Paul in my view belongs to another era in terms of how progress will be made in human spaceflight.

          in Paul’s world the US government can spend a lot of money and force technology change…now thats both true and obvious but the kicker that Paul leaves out is that this change is rarely ever (at least in its first few pertubations) affordable by anyone but the government; and today that technology is in a growing number of instances not even really affordable by the government.

          There are instances of government not forcing but enabling technology change; in spaceflight the Syncom series of communications satellites is one of the earliest and best examples. BUT the key here is that NASA more or less was just an enabler of funding for an industry concept that was just a tad to “racy” for industry to try. The history of geo comm sats is a very different “thing” if ADvent gets “pushed”. It was to big, to unaffordable and it likely does for geosats what the shuttle did for space transportation; sets it back a couple of decades.

          In Paul’s world the government through something like “the vision” spends 80-100-more billions of dollars to try and open up lunar resources. They might eventually get a drop or two of water and do something with it; but whatever develops from it will be so expensive that like the Shuttle it will have no sustainable market.

          Now, I am not saying that lunar resources wont eventually be used; but there is no “forcing” it; we have to nibble at it until the moment when (Connections the series comes to mind here) everything is in place and the next great idea to use whats in place works.

          Griffin spending 15 billion (and now more with Orion and SLS) is only the latest and probably last in a series of efforts to “force technology” that NASA has tried and failed at. If they had had 18 billion in today dollars back in the late 60′s and 70′s to work on the shuttle it still would have flopped. Government cannot do this sort of development. And today with all the “stakeholders” feeding at the trough; well its nearly impossible as the great technological programs such as SLS/F-35 etc must make clear.

          Paul (as Whittington notes on his blog) “giving the back of his hand” (I think thats what Mark says) to commercial space as a “program” illustrates that he (Spudis…but Whittington for different reasons doesnt either) gets it.

          Dragon/Dream Chaser/OSC’s thing, etc are all in the spirit and ennoblement of the Syncom series of satellites. It is about marrying technology with affordability…and in Paul’s world, that is simply not a issue.

          Apollo worked because cost was no factor. If it had taken “twice” what it cost; well cost might have crept into the picture as even then it becomes simply unaffordable. But there is a reason not a single bit of Apollo hardware of any significance made it into anything after Apollo….its to darn expensive.

          Robert G. Oler

        • Coastal Ron

          guestagain said:

          Now Spudis is behind the cis-lunar first movement which is all about opening up near earth orbit, higher earth orbits, and then lunar space before we get back to major efforts on the surface.

          Yes, but only with government money, and only if the propellant comes from the Moon, not from Earth.

          Paul wants the U.S. Government to ignore competitive pricing for fuel in space, and that is a bad thing to do. Until there is an economic reason to source fuel from the Moon – or anywhere in space – it does not make economic sense for the U.S. Government to fund the establishment of a lunar fuel production system.

          Paul is also too invested in the Moon to be unbiased about the economics of his proposals, and he is also too invested in the government being the lead for doing anything space-related to have any rational thoughts about non-governmental efforts (i.e. the commercial sector).

          Luckily his opinions don’t carry much weight outside a small circle of admirers.

          • Robert G. Oler

            Coastal Ron
            February 3, 2013 at 3:12 am · Reply

            Paul is also too invested in the Moon to be unbiased about the economics of his proposals, and he is also too invested in the government being the lead for doing anything space-related to have any rational thoughts about non-governmental efforts (i.e. the commercial sector).>>

            What I find funny about the issues here is that the “big government” types cannot see the floundering of that model.

            Its really quite stunning to me RGO

          • guestagain

            So far the only one who spends a lot of money is the government. We’ve been hearing that SPace-X is sending men to mars within ten years, but for some reason even they are waiting for the government money to advance their spacecraft. I, for one, have some confidence that Mr. Musk will eventually make good on his word. I am enthused that he is moving as quickly as he is and that he seems to be doing it with a lot less money than the government and Orion, for example. However, I’d like to see Space-X develop the commercial or private backing to make it happen in all due haste, instead of waiting on government money. Maybe Paul has similar feelings. He’d be happy for anyone to do the job, but our expectations after 50 years is that only the guvamint is spending. I also think that all of us would like to see in-situ resource use and that includes for fuel and oxidizer, and I don’t know why you think Paul does not support fuel depots. Has he said something that I’ve missed? Paul has been a supporter of a Shuttle derived booster for many years, since when it would have been relatively easy and inexpensive to develop a Shuttle derived booster.

  • guestagain

    I hope you are right. Maybe it will be the Chinese in 15-25 years (too long for many of us). Don’t forget that to have participated in any aspect of Apollo we have to be about 60 years old now. Some have 20 years left. Some a few more or some a few less, but that is the time frame we have to see something momentous happen. For anyone else to land a man on the moon, someone has to pay for it. I am not sure who that will be. But to see it happen within another couple of decades maybe too much to ask.

    • E. P. Grondine

      Hi Guest and guestagain –

      I watched several attempts come to nought during my time here.

      We might not be around to see it happen, but that does not mean that what we do now will have no effect on putting the pieces in place for it to happen.

      • Guest

        I wouldn’t count on it EP.
        While I’ve had plenty to do with Shuttle and ISS all you need to do is take a look at how NASA works and how they like to throw away everything and redesign the wheel every time they start a new project. Remember the messages of the Challenger and Columbia committees. NASA is NOT a learning organization. It is one of the prime reasons they seem to make zero progress.

  • Fred Willett

    Let’s, for a moment, take NASA’s plans as a given. Let’s suppose everything works out exactly as they hope.
    Then by 2021 SLS will have flown twice.
    Now let’s take SpaceX plans and compare. We will extend to them the same courtesy. We will assume their plans unfold exactly as planned.
    Falcon Heavy will launch for the first time next year. By 2020 SpaceX will be flying 10 Falcon 9s and 10 Falcon Heavys every year. (40 cores a year is Elon’s plan.)
    That’s 530t to orbit each and every year on FH compared to 140t max on SLS.
    These are best case figures for SLS and SpaceX.
    Makes you think. No?

    • DCSCA

      “Now let’s take SpaceX plans and compare [to NASA].” dreamed Fred.

      No. False equivalency.

      • NeilShipley

        No it’s not. Fred specifically applied the same criteria to both NASA and SpaceX. You, OTOH are just ‘cranking to crank’!

      • Robert G. Oler

        DSCA I am curious; what do you prescribe the inability of NASA to build an Apollo knockoff for under 20 billion dollars to?

        curious RGO

    • joe

      Actually as the investigation of the CRS-1 anomalies continue it will be interesting to see if the current iteration of the Falcon 9 will be flying again “for the first time next year” much less the Falcon Heavy

      “Makes you think. No?”

      It should, but I doubt (for most around here) it will.

      • JimNobles

        I can’t back this up but I’m guessing late spring or early summer 2014 for the first attempted launch of Falcon Heavy.

        • Bennett In Vermont (@BennettVermont)

          Whenever it goes in 2014, I hope they have many cameras rolling and many different microphones capturing the sonic experience.
           

          I’m looking forward to cranking the home theater up to 10.

        • joe

          “I can’t back this up but I’m guessing …”.

          A very hard assessment to argue with.

      • Dark Blue Nine

        “Actually as the investigation of the CRS-1 anomalies continue it will be interesting to see if the current iteration of the Falcon 9 will be flying again ‘for the first time next year’ much less the Falcon Heavy”

        To be clear, SpaceX has identified the root cause and passed it on to NASA:

        http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2013/01/spacex-win-contract-ahead-crs-2-mission/

        There’s not much investigation left.

        • joe

          From the article:

          “The FRR – as was the case with Shuttle – will review the previous flight of the Falcon 9 and Dragon as part the approval to proceed to launch, which – despite being a successful mission – will be highlighted by the anomaly resolution of the Engine 1 failure during Falcon 9′s ascent on SpX-1.” So are we now admitting that there was in fact an engine failure?

          SpaceX claim they have found the root cause of the engine shutdown and have passed on their findings to NASA management for their feedback.” See quote and comment below.

          “The pressure loss resulted in the fairing that protects the engine from aerodynamic loads to rupture, giving the impression of an explosion.” The impression of an explosion, you have got to love that.

          “The actual root cause of the incident has not been revealed to the public due to its company sensitive nature. However, SpaceX have said they will release some information into their findings “soon”’. So they know the cause, they just won’t tell anybody, that inspires confidence.

          • Dark Blue Nine

            “So they know the cause, they just won’t tell anybody, that inspires confidence.”

            That’s not what your quote from the article states. It states that they will release information soon.

            Common sense tells us that they have to let their customer (NASA) see it before the public does.

            • Common sense isn’t Joe’s strong point.

            • joe

              Actually what it states is:

              “The actual root cause of the incident has not been revealed to the public due to its company sensitive nature. However, SpaceX have said they will release some information into their findings “soon””

              So they cannot tell you the “root cause” now because it is “company sensitive”. But, they will tell you the “root cause” “soon”. Presumably that means the “root cause” will not be “company sensitive” “soon”. Yes you guys definitely have the market on “common sense” cornered. No doubt about it.

          • Robert G. Oler

            joe
            February 2, 2013 at 10:12 pm · Reply

            “The pressure loss resulted in the fairing that protects the engine from aerodynamic loads to rupture, giving the impression of an explosion.” The impression of an explosion, you have got to love that.>>>

            Why I get paid the big bucks. On one test flight a fire bottle ruptured…strange the over pressure blow out disk did not fire (part of certification as they say)…the test engineering in the back were well thinking explosion.

            Me? No I have seen explosions, this was not one. RGO

          • Coastal Ron

            joe pondered:

            So they know the cause, they just won’t tell anybody, that inspires confidence.

            If you have watched the relevant NASA briefings (or read their summaries), then you would know that NASA knows more than what SpaceX plans to release publicly, and they are satisfied enough with the investigation to proceed with the next CRS flight.

            But I find it funny when “independent observers” feel they should be given as much information about what’s going on with a NASA contractor as what NASA gets – that being a taxpayer means we get all the trade secret information that companies want to keep trade secrets.

            I’m sure your own company gives away all their proprietary information to whoever asks for it, no matter which country they come from, right? ;-)

            Joe, you are a funny guy.

        • amightywind

          The actual root cause of the incident has not been revealed to the public due to its company sensitive nature.

          Thanks for the link, which reinforces how untrustworthy SpaceX is and how delusional the notion of ‘commercial space’. The US tax payer funded the development of Falcon 9. If this were a problem with the shuttle it would have been dissected in public and ended with a detailed report. Boeing has been far more forthcoming with the status of their 787 electrical system problems. NASA’s complicity in hiding engineering truth from the public is very disturbing.

          • Robert G. Oler

            amightywind
            February 3, 2013 at 10:30 am · Reply

            The actual root cause of the incident has not been revealed to the public due to its company sensitive nature.

            Thanks for the link, which reinforces how untrustworthy SpaceX is and how delusional the notion of ‘commercial space’. The US tax payer funded the development of Falcon 9. I>>>

            another untruth RGO

  • NeilShipley

    Actually you’re incorrect. SpaceX is scheduled to fly their next ISS CRS mission 1st March with NASA’s blessing.

    • joe

      Actually there is this trivial technicality called a Flight Readiness Review (FRR) to go through before they would have the “blessing” of either NASA or (just as importantly) the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Range Safety Office.

      • Coastal Ron

        joe said:

        Actually there is this trivial technicality called a Flight Readiness Review (FRR)

        Oh, Joe.

        You know perfectly well the topic is NASA’s review of the Falcon 9 engine anomaly. NASA is satisfied enough with the information and briefing they received from SpaceX that they will let the planning for the next CRS flight proceed – and yes, that would include all the normal things that they would normally do. No one said otherwise.

        But apparently the voices in your head started whispering to you that SpaceX was, yet again, somehow trying to do something nefarious…

        • joe

          Yes, I see the little voices in your head are telling you that you can read people’s minds again.

          Check back when they subside and if you ever manage to have anything substantive to say.

  • JimNobles

    I believe I recently saw Suffredini explicitly state that they (NASA) didn’t know of anything that would delay the early March Falcon 9 flight.

    • joe

      Got a link to that statement that you say “believe I recently saw”?

      • JimNobles

        Got a link to that statement that you say “believe I recently saw”?

        No I don’t but it was one of the more recent ISS related press conferences on NASA TV. I don’t usually save link info for something that routine. Or really much of anything at all. Those of us who try to keep up with these sorts of things already knew that NASA didn’t seem to have any problems with the investigation results of the F9 engine shut down anomaly. To hear that the next F9 launch to ISS was still on schedule was not a surprise.

        If you really want to watch it you can probably find it on the NASA TV site.

  • Jeff Foust

    Since this conversation has devolved to people accusing each other of mental illness (“little voice in your head”), it’s time to terminate this discussion thread.