Congress, Lobbying, NASA

NASA operating plan may reverse Congressional increase in planetary science

NASA’s operating plan for fiscal year 2013 will reportedly reverse the increases awarded to the agency’s planetary science program by Congress, according to a report. The Planetary Exploration Newsletter (PEN) reported Wednesday that the operating plan, which details any tweaks NASA plans to make to the final FY13 appropriations passed in March, will return planetary science to the approximately $1.2 billion in the original FY13 budget request. Congress has included $1.415 billion for planetary science (before an across-the-board rescission and sequestration) in its budget, but the operating plan would fund the program at $1.196 billion (post-rescission and sequestration, it appears), compared to an original request of $1.192 billion.

Moreover, some programs within planetary will feel sharper cuts, as the appropriations bill earmarked $75 million of planetary funding to study a Europa mission. NASA’s Discovery program would get a 33% cut over what Congress approved, while Mars exploration would be cut by 20% from the request. The numbers in the PEN report are based on drafts of the operating plan they obtained; the final version of the operating plan was due to Congress on May 10 but, as of earlier this week, had not been submitted (but was in final preparations, according to sources.)

The magnitude and timing (with just over four months remaining in the fiscal year) of the cuts worries many in the planetary community. “The next Discovery call will certainly be delayed” because of the cuts, wrote Mark Sykes of the Planetary Science Institute in the newsletter. “The impact to research programs will be severe – further reduced selection rates can be anticipated.” He called on the planetary community to contact key members of Congress and ask them to reject the operating plan if it is submitted with those cuts.

The news of the potential planetary cuts coincides with a visit by The Planetary Society to Capitol Hill earlier this week. Officials with the advocacy organization paid visits to members’ offices and also held a luncheon Tuesday talking about the achievements NASA’s planetary program has made, but also their concerns that its future is in peril. “We can do a nice, balanced mix of small Discovery-class missions, medium-scale New Frontiers missions, and a flagship or two for that billion and a half dollars a year over the next ten years,” said Jim Bell, president of the board of directors of The Planetary Society and a professor of planetary science at Arizona State University. That $1.5-billion figure is what NASA’s planetary program was funded at in 2012.

The consequences of failing to fund NASA’s planetary program at that level are severe, the organization’s representatives argued. “We are in the middle of the golden age of space exploration,” said Emily Lakdawalla, senior editor at The Planetary Society. “If we don’t keep NASA’s planetary sciences funding where it needs to be in order to keep producing these small, medium, and large missions to explore all over the solar system, then we are going to bring the golden age of planetary exploration to an end, at least in the United States.”

“The reason I took this gig a couple of years ago,” said Bill Nye, the CEO of the society, “is because we’re at this turning point. We don’t want to end up in a situation where we fall behind, we stop exploring.”

49 comments to NASA operating plan may reverse Congressional increase in planetary science

  • Dark Blue Nine

    Redirecting one month of MPCV/SLS funding, smoothed out over a year, would fix this problem.

    It makes no sense to build a super-expensive HLV and capsule (ostensibly) for human planetary exploration if we can’t even afford a substantive robotic planetary exploration program.

    • amightywind

      This is a case of Washington Monument syndrome where any budget cuts are made as painful as possible by s cynical, Machiavellian NASA leadership. We must build SLS with all speed.

      • JimNobles

        We must build SLS with all speed.

        You might need to start writing and calling congress about that. It looks to me like they want to stretch that thing out to get as much money back to their districts as they can before it comes crashing down from it’s own weight. Not all the players involved think like that for sure but it looks like enough of the smarter ones, Shelby for example, know the score.

      • Coastal Ron

        amightywind said:

        We must build SLS with all speed.

        To do what?

        Can you point to the customers that need an HLV like the SLS? Can you show us the funding stream of U.S. Taxpayer money that Congress had appropriated to fund ANY SLS payloads?

        What proof do you have that once the SLS is finished, that it will fly anything except for the over-priced MPCV?

        Unless you can answer those simple questions, the SLS is obviously not needed.

      • common sense

        “We must build SLS with all speed.”

        Yep it’s part of the requirement you know!

        Or we can build it with only half the speed just like Ares-1X. We would have SLS-X… The most largest sub-orbital rocket. That’d be an achievement all by itself. Very useful.

        Oh well.

      • Dark Blue Nine

        “We must build SLS with all speed.”

        Yeah, because it really matters which month eight-plus years from now that Apollo 8 is repeated. That’s totally worth terminating dozens of research grants and deferring a couple Discovery and New Frontiers missions. Why do actual, new planetary exploration when you can accelerate by one month the repetition of a stunt that’s already 45 years old?

        “This is a case of Washington Monument syndrome where any budget cuts are made as painful as possible by s cynical, Machiavellian NASA leadership.”

        Where else is planetary science going to take the cuts besides research grants and missions?

        • common sense

          “Where else is planetary science going to take the cuts besides research grants and missions?”

          Well I guess we can demote a few planets on occasion. Pluto no longer is one. On that model we might say that Jupiter is a non-star. One planet off. Seven to go. Well okay Earth does not account and NOAA can do the work anyway.. Six to go. Who would ever say Mercury is a planet??? Come on. It’s a moon of our sun. See. You get the picture. Now we can reallocate a lot of the budget to planet of importance like the Moon. Wait. What?

          Oh darn. This Keppler people they just found thousands more.

          Oh well…

        • DCSCA

          “That’s totally worth terminating dozens of research grants and deferring a couple Discovery and New Frontiers missions.”

          Yep. You said it!

          • Dark Blue Nine

            “Yep. You said it!”

            You value accelerating by one month the useless circumnavigation of the nearest planetary body — a stunt that was achieved 45 years ago — over actual, new exploration and understanding of multiple planetary bodies.

            Talk about going in circles, nowhere fast.

            You’re an idiot.

            • DCSCA

              “You value accelerating by one month the useless circumnavigation of the nearest planetary body — a stunt.” cries dbn.

              Uh, putting a wheel of cheese in LEO was the ‘stunt’ as desperate commercialists like you know all too well. Apollo 8’s ten orbits of Luna was not. It was United States government policy as part of a Cold War strategy– And, as was noted at the time, it ‘saved 1968.’

              “…over actual, new exploration and understanding of multiple planetary bodies.”

              Well, we’ve outed an elbow-patched faculty lounge setter who presents a possibility as an actuality[ who prefers his expensive toys to government HSF ops. What a surprise.

              Dissing Apollo isn’t going to get you far in space advocacy circles. So please do keep it up!

              • Dark Blue Nine

                “Apollo 8′s ten orbits of Luna was not.”

                Apollo was a stunt. Multiple primary and secondary sources have stated such:

                “[President Kennedy]: ‘… you can learn most of what you want scientifically through instruments and putting a man on the moon really is a stunt and it isn’t worth that many billions… it does look like a stunt’”


                “Thomas Evans headed up the Advanced Lunar Missions Study Program in the NASA Headquarters Office of Manned Space Flight… Evans told assembled members of the AAS that ‘the idea of a manned [landing] on the moon was so spectacular. . .that [it] dominated most pronouncements and thoughts on the space program.’ He argued, however, that this objective had ‘too much the flavor of a stunt to be the final goal of a $20 billion national effort.’”


                “But although President Kennedy’s objective was duly accomplished,” wrote the Director of NASA’s Ames Research Center in 1987, “the Apollo Program had no logical legacy.” It was a technological dead end. One reporter likened the whole race to the Moon to a dog chasing a car… The dog, somewhat uncertain what to do once it had the car, hesitated, marked it as dogs will, and then walked away… Like the Apollo Program, the Space Shuttle was a spectacular stunt with little or no payoff.”


                “Project Apollo: Stunt or Portent?

                Magnificent as they were, the launch vehicles that carried men to the moon turned out to be too expensive for other missions. The choice of lunar-orbit rendezvous as the mission mode – largely dictated by the end-of-the-decade challenge – produced two spacecraft ideally adapted to their function but without sufficient margin for growth to advance the exploration of the moon as far as scientists wanted. Apollo’s scientific results were of vital interest to only a very small fraction of the scientific community and did not authoritatively answer the questions scientists hoped they would answer before the first landing. (As one critic caustically commented, the scientists were able to obtain ‘a neater fix, so to speak, on the number of angels who can dance on the point of a pin.’)”


                “As fascinating and awesome as the Apollo program was, there is some truth behind dissenters’ opinions that the program was little more than a stunt.”


                “At the height of the Cold War, the superpowers spared no expense in funding the latest space spectacular. Dazzling stunts in space, not cost-cutting, were the order of the day. No one bothered to read their price tag.

                But after 1969, the Soviets dropped out of the race to the moon and, like a cancer, the land war in Asia began to devour the budget. The wind gradually came out of the sails of the space program; the Nielsen ratings for each moon landing began to fall. The last manned mission to the moon was Apollo 17, in 1972.

                As Isaac Asimov once commented, we scored a touchdown, then took our football and went home.”


                “Face the facts. The Mercury program was a stunt. The Gemini program was a stunt. And the Apollo program was a stunt. President Kennedy’s original challenge for lunar landing had to be done ‘by the end of this decade’ meant that a magnificent stunt was all that could be accomplished. There was not time to develop the basic technologies, techniques and infrastructure that would make manned space exploration safe, reliable, and sustainable, or even to simply actually explore the Moon. All Apollo could accomplish — and that just barely — was to send two men to the surface of the Moon and then bring them back again after a stay of no more than a matter of hours. The ‘giant leap’ was in reality a tiny step away from just grabbing a handful of moondirt and scooting quickly back to Earth, never to return. That was all that was required to prove that the United States was the technological and organizational superior to the Soviet Union, and that was the real objective.

                It was a stunt. That does not mean that great engineering wasn’t done, or that tremendous courage wasn’t required, or that good science wasn’t accomplished. But it was a stunt, because it truly was not designed to lead to anything else.

                We have to stop thinking of manned space exploration in terms of doing stunts.”


                “Well, we’ve outed an elbow-patched faculty lounge setter”

                Once again, your ignorance exceeds your grasp. I don’t serve on any faculty.

                And you can’t even get your stereotypes right. Planetary scientists don’t wear elbow patches, dummy:









                “who prefers his expensive toys to government HSF ops”

                I’ll take the robotic “toys” performing actual exploration of multiple planets and solar system bodies over the “HSF ops” that hasn’t left Earth orbit in over four decades.


    • DCSCA

      “Redirecting all of commercial crew funding, smoothed out over a year, would fix this problem.”

      There fixed that- and the problem, for ‘ya.

      • Yes, of course. Why that’s the only thing standing in the way of the triumph of SLS. Let’s kill a program that’s actually accomplishing things on a relative shoestring, in order to feed the BFR To Nowhere for a few more months, on its way to a vague future that no one can afford…

        • DCSCA

          “Let’s kill a program that’s actually accomplishing things…”

          =yawn= Rising costs on throw away space probes in an era when dispoosable electronics are dropping in cost around this planet and perpetuating government subsidized jobs for the elbow-patched, faculty lounge set is all these ‘programs’ are ‘accomplishing.’

          These tweed-jacketed chalkdusters of the ivory tower set are long overdue for a dose of reality snd ought to try pitching projects like JWST or the $2.6 billion ‘Curiosity’ around a business plan in a marketing meeting with McDonald’s, or Canon, or Mitisbushi, or Apple… or Tesla= you know, the ‘private sector’ the anti-government HSF crowd likes ro squawk about. See if they can be suckered to finance a low to no ROI project like ‘Curiosity.’ Or JWST. They’d get laughed out of the conference room. You want more pretty pictures of star fields or red desert scenes, s take a $10 digital camera out into the Mojave Desert at noon and click away.

      • Dark Blue Nine

        “There fixed that- and the problem, for ‘ya.”

        As usual, your ignorance exceeds your grasp. Terminating commercial crew doesn’t free up funding for the Planetary Science Division. NASA would just have to send that money to Russia for more Soyuz flights.

        You’re an idiot.

        • DCSCA

          As usual, your ignorance exceeds your grasp… Terminating commercial crew doesn’t free up funding for the Planetary Science Division.’

          Pffft. dbn, projecting his own flaws again. But then, you anti-SLS, privatize all government types are easy to out. Keeping planetary probes flush by terminating commerical crew crew finanacing for deadend LEO ops, to finance planetary science- or not, is a good thing, of course. Because LEO is a ticket to no place, going in circles, no where, fast. ,

          • Dark Blue Nine

            “Pffft. dbn, projecting his own flaws again.”

            No, you’re the ignoramus claiming that the termination of commercial crew would free up funding when it wouldn’t. Without a domestic crew transport capability, NASA is going to have to buy more Soyuz missions.

            Think before you post, idiot.

            “privatize all government types”

            Where have I ever stated that “all government” should be privatized?

            Just keep making things up. It makes your arguments that much more persuasive.

            “Because my posts and punctuation are a ticket to no place, going in circles, no where, fast. ,”


            • DCSCA

              “Without a domestic crew transport capability, NASA is going to have to buy more Soyuz missions.” whines dbn.

              Which is the smarter and more cost-effective policy.The “I” in ISS stands for ‘international,’ not ‘Ivan.’ Or are you one of these people who only flies domestic carriers and never virgin or Air France… and only boards Boeings, not Airbuses.

              The obljective is to get crews on orbit to do the lauded, nebulous, dubious, ‘valuable’ research. It doesn’t matter where they’re launchec from. It is not to finance w/tax monies ‘domesticc’ launch development many years off- particularly to service a dead end project doomed to a Pacific grave.

              The ISS represents past policy planning from an era long over. The $825 million the Obama administation seeks for a single year of no-flight subsidies for CC would finance contracting for ‘seats’ aboard an operational system, Soyuz, to access ISS for the rest of the decade as ISS spirals down to its Pacific end.

              The future is Luna, not LEO. LEO is a ticket to no plae, going in circles, no where fast.

              • Dark Blue Nine

                “The obljective is to get crews on orbit to do the lauded, nebulous, dubious, ‘valuable’ research.”

                The “obljective [sic]” in this discussion is to find viable offsets for the reductions in NASA’s planetary science budget. Spending more of NASA’s budget on Soyuz purchases doesn’t achieve that “obljective [sic]”.

                Think before you post, dummy.

                “Or are you one of these people who only flies domestic carriers and never virgin or Air France…”

                Once again, your ignorance exceeds your grasp. I flew Air France on my honeymoon. I’m flying on Virgin this summer to a wedding in California.

                “The obljective”

                “they’re launchec”

                “‘domesticc’ launch”

                “no plae”

                “no where fast”

                Learn the English language, you illiterate idiot.

  • E.P. Grondine

    The PHO detection budget is still a rounding error.

    • Hiram

      The spaceborne assessment of CO2 accumulation in the terrestrial atmosphere from NASA Earth Science missions is funded with a rounding error budget as well. Not clear which (CO2 buildup or asteroid impact) will kill more people. Hard to say how many people will be killed by not having a heavy lift launcher.

      • E.P. Grondine

        Hi Hiram –

        I am pretty upset that the TOMS ozone data series is no longer being kept.

        As far as the climatic effects of 14C goes, it is still an open question. But actions that will result in trillions of dollars of effects one way or the other are still being taken without that knowledge, despite W’s pledge for more funding for that research at the time of his veto of Kyoto.

        It would be nice to definitively know if we are facing a real hazard or not, but both sides of the aisle have no interest in pushing any research on it right now.

        If they were, then the two probes that Orbital lost for NASA would be being replaced. The silence on this from the “planetary scientists” echoes hollowly through the cold marble halls.

        • Hiram

          Well, isotopic carbon or ozone doesn’t have anything to do with it. 14C has no climatic effects whatsoever. There is no open question about the infrared opacity of CO2, which is mostly composed of the stable 12C isotope. CO2 is the most effective infrared absorber besides water vapor, and we can’t do anything about water in our atmosphere. The potential climatic effects of CO2 are also not argued about. What’s being argued about is the role that humans play in all that. Without getting OT here, almost all atmospheric scientists agree on the answer to that argument.

          My point is that NASA invests very little money on what may be very serious issues about human survival in other things besides impactors. To NASA, threats to humanity are simply not a high priority, and Congress seems happy with that. In fact, threats to astronauts and jobs are of vastly higher priority than threats to humanity, in terms of NASA expenditures. That’s just the way it is for an “exploration agency”, where “exploration” is defined as humans sitting on rockets and putting footprints o distant soil.

          • E.P. Grondine

            Hiram –

            You are right that this forum is not the place to discuss AGW. There are plenty of places to do that, but all the words in the world are no substitute for data.

            You can include impactors in that list of hazards NASA ignores. Even Chelyabinsk was not enough to divert NASA from “exploration”.

            You and I both know what the value would be of a firm 18 month weather forecast for both agriculture and mankind.

            But NASA is far more than humans sitting on rockets and putting footprints on distant bodies (Soil is what we have on Earth).

            Generally, NASA buys rockets and launches them, then throws out any data that they used as an excuse for those purchases. Thus viewed in the grand scheme of things, manned spaceflight as it now exists is just another NASA excuse to buy and launch rockets.

          • Coastal Ron

            Hiram said:

            To NASA, threats to humanity are simply not a high priority, and Congress seems happy with that.

            How right you are.

            In fact, threats to astronauts and jobs are of vastly higher priority than threats to humanity, in terms of NASA expenditures.

            And I think that is mostly overlooked, so thanks for restating it.

      • NeilShipley

        There’s an oversupply of people on this planet anyway so losing a few more wont make any difference other than to the Earth in a good way.

  • James

    NASA Science is broken. Planetary is just the canary suffering first; others in the cave of NASA science are also headed towards dooms day.

    Budgets are flat, and shrinking, but NASA science mission costs are going up. That is a recipe for going out of business.

    The legacy of JWST maybe Nobel science, but, OMB is putting the kibosh on flagships, as SMD is being told, ‘forget a bout it'; maybe 1 flagship per decade for all of NASA Science. That will also be the legacy of JWST.

    And you can’t answer big science questions with small missions. Small missions raise the questions, but it take something more to answer them. Small missions also don’t feed the respective science communities,

    Young scientists are going elsewhere, not NASA, as the future looks dim.

    But hey, NASA will have a rocket to no where in SLS.

    • Bennett In Vermont

      Spot on.

    • DCSCA

      “Budgets are flat, and shrinking, but NASA science mission costs are going up. That is a recipe for going out of business.” says James.

      Yep. On a planet where disposable electronics are dropping in price almost monthly, costs for throw away off planet probes are soaring. and for the elbow-patched, tweed cardigan crowd, reality is beginning to seep into the faculty lounge. Watch ‘em try to pitch a bsiness/marketing plan for a planetary probe to McDonalds, or Musk.. or Trump.

    • E.P. Grondine

      James –

      I would really appreciate it if everyone here would leave James Webb out of it, and call that telescope what it is: the Ed Weiler Space Telescope, or EWST.

      The EWST is NASA’s “flaghip” mission for about the next 2 decades.

      • Hiram

        We might rename the Hubble Space Telescope the EWST instead. Ed oversaw the crippling industry fabrication mistakes that left the just-launched telescope useless, and he led a novel strategy to recover on both technical and political fronts, developing crucial alliances between NASA science and human space flight. Of course, that telescope became what is undeniably the most productive scientific instrument ever. It has been NASA’s flagship mission for two decades. Yep, that’ll teach him. With his name on that developmentally bungled telescope, he’ll hang his head in shame.

        • E.P. Grondine

          Hiram –

          The Hubble null collimeter mistake was made on Ed’s watch, wasn’t it?

          And NASA launched without a final performance check on Hubble, no?

          • Hiram

            “Ed’s watch”? No, Ed wasn’t leaning over the shoulders of the folks at Perkin Elmer. That wasn’t his job. NASA asked for an explanation of the tests they did on the HST mirror, and PE supplied them. PE made a mistake. Of course, Ed didn’t give the HST instrument access panels a tug before it launched either. Had Ed done that, he might have saved the astronauts some trouble. For shame, Ed. In fact, Ed really should have given the mirror a once-over with his hankie before it launched, no?

            I’m sorry, but it’s one thing to be critical about cost and schedule management. It’s another thing to be critical about what you pay technicians to do.

    • DCSCA

      “Young scientists are going elsewhere, not NASA, as the future looks dim.” says Jim wisely.

      Yep. Case in point. Nephew is a math/science whiz, brilliant researcher with a top GPA and honors. Tried for years to spark interest in NASA ops, HSF, lunar and/or planetary studies but he said there’s just not much of a future in it as a career path these days, His school didn’t encourage it either. When the time came to select universities and fields he passed on the MIT and CalTech and opted for pursuing bio-engineering at Berkeley as he sees a lucrative future in that kind of research and a benefit for people. Mars rocks, not so much. When /Curiosity landed, aside from the engineering triumph of thEDL success, he couldn’t have cared less. And he’s not alone.

  • Hiram

    “Budgets are flat, and shrinking, but NASA science mission costs are going up. That is a recipe for going out of business.”

    Exactly the same could be said for human space flight, no? At least for NASA, it’s a going-out-of-business recipe that’s being followed. The patches for those folks aren’t on their elbows, but on their chest and the upper arms, and what’s seeping are diapers. Whether they have on an Armani suit and tie, or a polo shirt and gimme cap, their objective is to spend money to put people on rockets. Yes, I’ve watched them trying to pitch a business/marketing plan to McDonalds, Musk, and Trump, and it’s pretty hilarious.

    • James

      “Exactly the same could be said for human space flight, no?”

      Absolutely. The greatest impact to NASA human space flight development costs have been the dual catastrophe’s of Challenger and Columbia. Driving risk down, making human systems triple fault tolerant, etc. in a flat budget environment makes it impossible to ever predict with any certainty how much something is going to cost. Throw in the dysfunction in the budgeting process between OMB, White House, Congress, and you’ll always be short changed the money you think you need, further adding to slippage delays and cost over runs.

      I do not think it is possible anymore for NASA to lead the development of large scale human space flight systems – the systems necessary for BEO exploration. For an organization over 50 years old, with the history and scars that still reverberate within it’s culture, in a majestically dysfunctional political environment, its time to shift to research, with the hope that more Elon Musks will emerge – individuals that can form company’s with young energetic cynicism-free employees free from major catastrophic induced neurosis – who can build the systems needed for BEO.

      NASA Science needs an Elon Musk type to emerge, with Billions at his/her disposal, to mount the large scale science missions that will answer the big science questions of our time, and ask new ones.

  • Guest

    NASA and Mr. Bolden need to stop their whining and investigate why Space-X and others (Boeing, Spacehab, SNC…) can all afford to design and build spaceships and rockets and NASA with all of their in-house expertise cannot. You can say that NASA is particularly risk averse, but its not true; take a look at the Orion/MPCV which is way behind schedule and way over weight and it obviously has serious design problems with major structural cracks… but by far they have spent more dollars and more time and more personnel on it than on anything else in development.
    Shuttle was a much larger, much more complex vehicle and yet it did not cost this amount and it did not take this long.
    The issue is poor NASA management.
    If NASA were being managed properly they could be doing all these things and a lot of other things too.
    NASA management is what needs an overhaul.

    • E.P. Grondine

      Hi Guest –

      It appears that no one wants to study ATK’s Ares 1 fiasco to the depth it deserves.

    • Hiram

      Not much investigation needed here. NASA, with all of their in-house expertise, can’t design and build spaceships and rockets because that’s not where their expertise is. Not any more. Their expertise is now about cutting edge technology and subsystems. For big-metal projects, they buy that effort from industry. Having decided to do that, NASA still micromanages design & build, imposing requirements up the kazoo, and that’s where the huge expenses happen. The advantage of commercial is simple. Those folks decide what they want to build and where economies lie, and NASA simply decides if it wants the product. If the issue is poor NASA management, commercial providers offer opportunities to get rid of a lot of that NASA management. I think what commercial is teaching us is that NASA doesn’t need to micromanage anymore to get the performance it wants.

      • vulture4

        I agree, having sat through hundreds of relatively useless NASA reviews. NASA should ask industry what it needs and not micromanage. OTOH some of the less expensive NASA science missions have done quite well.

    • Coastal Ron

      Guest said:

      NASA and Mr. Bolden need to stop their whining and investigate why Space-X and others (Boeing, Spacehab, SNC…) can all afford to design and build spaceships and rockets and NASA with all of their in-house expertise cannot.

      You are asking the wrong questions, and you are focused on the wrong people.

      For instance, the MPCV – why did Michael Griffin choose that design for the Orion over many other designs and approaches? He didn’t use a proper competition of ideas to guide the selection, he made it himself based on faulty assumptions (i.e that the Apollo capsule would scale up that much). It’s tough to overcome bad requirements.

      The SLS traces it’s heritage back to the Ares I and V, plus some Shuttle heritage. How screwed up can that be? And who designed it? Congress.

      So I’m not sure why you see this as a “NASA and Mr. Bolden” issue. And it’s too far down the road for the MPCV, and Congress won’t listen on the SLS. There is nothing either can do.

      And having worked in the government contracting arena, I can tell you that it’s pretty much a given that any government owned version of anything will cost far more than a private industry equivalent. Any time you have to pay someone to do something for you, that adds a layer of profit that has to be added onto the final price. That’s also part of the reason why SpaceX is able to have such low prices, since they do so much of their own manufacturing.

      That’s why NASA needs to stay focused on those things that are cutting-edge and unique, and leave the things that have already been proven out to the private sector. And for rockets, the private sector has far more experience building and operating them than NASA does – they should be buying transportation services instead of building their own transportation system.

      • DCSCA

        “For instance, the MPCV – why did Michael Griffin choose that design for the Orion over many other designs and approaches?” ponders Ron.

        Griffin was a lousy administrator, Ron. That’s a given. His ego had him believing he was another von Braun. Still does. Except he’s not. And he’s an arrogant prig, too. He was as bad for the space agency administering over Constellation as O’Keefe was at beign a bureaucratic beancounter. And now you’re stuck with Veetle Bailey Bolden, who is little more than a placeholder in an era of free drift and transotion. And now that Nr. Obama’s agenda is dissolving before our eyes, his lame duck status with this Congress is solififying into place by summer. So expect three more years of free drift.

      • common sense

        “why did Michael Griffin choose that design for the Orion over many other designs and approaches? ”

        Well. Considering the budget the CEV would most likely end up being a capsule.

        It was the impression that since we had built Apollo 40 years ago it would be easier and speed up the design process if the CEV would “look like” Apollo, and there certainly is something to that notion. The only problem being that most Apollo engineers were long gone and people had to relearn how to design it. Then of course other problems started to show like the size, the side wall angles, the heat shield material, etc.

        One interesting requirement though was that the CEV had to be monostable. Monostable means that no matter what the capsule would orient itself so that the heatshield comes in first during reentry. The Apollo shape does not work for monostability. The Soyuz shape on the other hand does. Unfortunately for a bunch of people supposedly bent on crew safety it was not politically correct that the new A.M.E.R.I.C.A.N. CEV looks like a Soyuz. So the hell with crew safety. Requirements driven by politics.

        By the way some early requirements were not working either. Like high L/D performance, which is generally achieved at high angle of attack on reentry but bring in instability for a capsule. But high L/D was required to perform land-landing in the US since you needed downrange and crossrange as well. AND land-landing was required since we did not want to bring the whole US Navy to recover the capsule – as recently demonstrated by SpaceX you don’t really need the whole US Navy. But a high L/D capsule? Well that does not exist, not really. There were studies with non symmetrical heatshield even though the increase in L/D was not that significant. It might have helped with packaging which is very important in a capsule since it dictates the location of the CG which in turns drive angle of attack hence L/D. Anywho.

        Lifting bodies of sorts were suggested but feared too complicated.

        So stupid requirements took over mission requirements so that in the end the CEV would look like Apollo just bigger.

        The rest is history…

        Hope this helps.

        • vulture4

          Interesting. But while a cargo capsule can be recovered by a few guys and a barge, for SpaceX to land a NASA crew in water they would need a massive naval force just to meet NASA HSF requirements. So they wisely chose land recovery, as did Boeing and Sierra Nevada.

  • E.P. Grondine

    It is clear to me that no one wants to examine in depth the Ares 1 fiasco.

    Instead of getting the facts, and then summing up what those facts show, everyone prefers instead to use the Ares 1 fiasco as an occasion to expouse their personal views on the philosophy of government.

  • Coastal Ron

    DCSCA warbled:

    Veetle Bailey


    Nr. Obama

    Unfortunately for you, now whenever I read what you write I’m only looking to see the hilarious typo’s.

    If you want to be “heard”, I suggest you upgrade your 60’s era keyboard…

  • E.P. Grondine

    For what it is worth: according to the MSNBC poll, only about 1 in 20 people is extemely interested in manned Mars flight.

    Take a look for yourself. We know the poll is biased towards MSNBC readers. It is tough to say how many of them are opposed to spending federal money on manned flight to Mars. It may be az high as 1 in 3, perhaps more.

    We never get polls taken on NASA and planetary defense.
    I suspect they would run about 90% favorable.

  • Casey Stedman

    The discussion seems to have moved away from the topic- which is the funding for planetary science missions.

    I applaud the Planetary Society for the efforts they’ve made to garner public support and lobby for continued funding. What is NASA if not the agency that explores other worlds? (Please don’t think I’m making a robots vs. Humans arguement, as I believe there is room for both)

    But it will be a travesty if we sacrifice planetary missions, of any class, to cover deficits for launch vehicle shortfalls.

    As for the “tweed jacket and ivory tower” crowd-I think that’s an unfair assesment of the planetary science community. There is a disproportionate number of under 40-somethings who are actively participating in exploration missions. Every year at the annual Lunar & Planetary Science Conference, hundreds of students and young researchers are present to take part in the sessions covering the latest discoveries. And despite what some may think, there is A LOT of enthusiasm for MSL and it’s impact on Martian research.

    It would be a diservice to the future if space exploration to ruin now the enormous strides that are taking place in planetary science

  • Aberwys

    I agree with James–NASA Science is broken.

    I am a young scientist. The keys to the kingdom are not being shared by the senior scientists who are at retirement age or a few years away.

    Instead, senior scientists spend their days plotting about how to keep the young folks away, since these guys don’t want to retire.

    Young scientists get marginalized for speaking out. I see this first hand.

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