NASA, Other

Chris Kraft reiterates his opposition to SLS (plus Mars, asteroids, Bolden, and Gangnam Style)

Comments by former NASA Johnson Space Center director Chris Kraft regarding NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) have attracted some attention this week. “When they actually begin to develop it, the budget is going to go haywire,” he said in an interview with the Houston Chronicle originally published Sunday (getting more attention in an expanded version published in a Chronicle blog post on Tuesday.) “Then there are the operating costs of that beast, which will eat NASA alive if they get there.” Development of the SLS, he concluded, is not “justifiable” for NASA. “It’s not justifiable from a cost point of view, and it’s not justifiable from a mission plan point of view. It just doesn’t make good sense.”

While Kraft’s opinions about SLS are blunt, they’re not new. “The SLS-based strategy is unaffordable, by definition, since the costs of developing, let alone operating, the SLS within a fixed or declining budget has crowded out funding for critical elements needed for any real deep space human exploration program,” he wrote in a Chronicle op-ed in April 2012 co-authored by another former JSC official, Tom Moser. SLS was, in particular, to a threat to JSC, they argued, since building SLS deprived JSC of its “crown jewel” of engineering development and operations work. “SLS is killing JSC. SLS is killing Texas jobs. SLS is killing our national space agenda.”

What’s more newsworthy, perhaps, is his criticism of NASA’s current direction and its management. “[NASA Administrator Charles] Bolden, let’s face it, he doesn’t know what it takes to do a major project. He doesn’t have experience with that,” Kraft said. “He keeps talking about going to Mars in the 2030s, but that’s pure, unadulterated, BS.” He’s also not a fan of NASA’s asteroid initiative, and would rather go back to the Moon. “There’s no reason why you couldn’t set up a factory on the Moon to build solar panels. You could provide enough electrical power on the Moon from solar cells, and eventually you could supply enough power for half the people on Earth with a solar cell farm on the Moon,” he claims (making no mention of the cost or economic payoff of such an initiative.)

Kraft is also not a fan of last year’s “Johnson-style” video, a parody of “Gangnam Style” produced by JSC interns. “I gave ‘em hell,” Kraft said. “I said look, ‘You just spent all of this effort to make a movie, how about spending all of that effort in making a space program go?’”

33 comments to Chris Kraft reiterates his opposition to SLS (plus Mars, asteroids, Bolden, and Gangnam Style)

  • Another Apollo-era civil servant wanting to do Apollo again. Nothing new.

    • Hi Stephen. He actually is not advocating Apollo, which is essentially what the SLS mimics in design. If you read the interview he’s advocating launching payloads on existing, reliable rockets and then assembling spacecraft in orbit and fueling them with depots.

      • Guest

        What is wrong with just flying directly to the moon and landing, Eric? Eliminate the astronauts and it all becomes possible. No … wait … lol. That is how out of touch with reality the people pushing deep space human space flight are.

      • Hi Eric –

        I did read the article. My concern is that the Apollo-era people for the most part don’t seem to allow for the possibility of letting the private sector do it, and not NASA. Also why does it have to be a company with a government monopoly contract like ULA? SpaceX can do it more cheaply, and when Falcon Heavy is online that will be the second-most powerful rocket in history after the Saturn V.

        As you know, Golden Spike and Bigelow and others are aiming towards what could be eventually a commercial lunar program, using the Falcon Heavy or the heavy versions of the ULA vehicles. But folks like Mr. Craft seem to think only NASA can do it.

        More fundamentally, they assume that NASA’s mission is to be Starfleet. But if you read the original 1958 National Aeronautics and Space Act, NASA was intended to be an R&D research agency, turning over that technology to other government agencies and the private sector. Absent an external threat like that perceived in the early 1960s, Congress will never fund another big government program. That’s another assumption these Apollo folks don’t seem to realize will never happen again.

        • Guest

          More fundamentally, they assume that NASA’s mission is to be Starfleet.

          Well if that’s what they think their mission is and all the taxpayers and citizens are getting is SLS and Orion, then I’ll call them Barney Fife. Somebody is getting a raw deal and I’ll bet it’s not the salaried NASA civil servants and their contractors.

        • Charles Miller

          Stephen,

          While Chris may not be as big of a commercial advocate as some of us, he is open to persuasion based on facts (which is different than many from the Apollo era.) He is quite supportive of using commercial methods where it makes sense.

          Read about the “Kraft report” that was published in 1995 where he lead a NASA-sponsored study that recommended privatizing the Shuttle.

          http://www.fas.org/spp/kraft.htm

          I will also note that he is advocating flying on commercial rockets, which is a critical part of the overall system.

          Onwards and upwards,

          - Charles

          • Charles Miller wrote:

            Read about the “Kraft report” that was published in 1995 where he lead a NASA-sponsored study that recommended privatizing the Shuttle.

            I’ve only quickly glanced at it, but it seems to me he was proposing what basically became United Space Alliance.

            I’m looking for a fundamental acknowledgement that expecting Congress to approve and fund a robust government human space exploration program beyond Earth orbit will never happen again.

          • DCSCA

            Read about the “Kraft report” that was published in 1995 where he lead a NASA-sponsored study that recommended privatizing the Shuttle.

            The Kraft Report was not well rec’d. He was wrong. Kraft was successful, but not infallible. Same w/Von Braun.

        • Vladislaw

          Stephen, although we are on the same page with most issues, I have to disagree, in part, with this:

          “More fundamentally, they assume that NASA’s mission is to be Starfleet. … Congress will never fund another big government program. That’s another assumption these Apollo folks don’t seem to realize will never happen again.”

          I think Congress, in the future, will be willing to fund big space aquistions, rather than space programs.

          TURN KEY systems, like XCOR’s Lynx or WK2 & SS2 will be bought by the military and NASA.

          Just like all the other turn key commercial transportation systems the government aquires, commercial space transportation systems are FINALLY, after only half a century, becoming a regular in that mix.

          • Vladislaw wrote:

            I think Congress, in the future, will be willing to fund big space aquistions, rather than space programs.

            I don’t see that happening any time soon. Congress is only interested in protecting pork in their districts and states. The members of the space subcommittees are those with a vested interest in the status quo. No one will ever convince Dick Shelby or Bill Nelson or Lamar Smith or Mo Brooks to stop trying to steer millions of dollars in OldSpace contracts to their districts and states.

            They use “Moon program” as a fig leaf for their porking. I see no reason to think that’s going to change in the foreseeable future.

      • Eric, to further the point … Right now I’m watching the all-astronaut panel at the Commercial Spaceflight Federation meeting in Houston. Maybe you’re covering it.

        I would love to know Chris Kraft was watching this, and also what he thinks. All these companies are represented by astronauts, and over and over again they talk about safety and testing.

  • James

    “Then there are the operating costs of that beast, which will eat NASA alive if they get there.” Development of the SLS, he concluded, is not “justifiable” for NASA. “It’s not justifiable from a cost point of view, and it’s not justifiable from a mission plan point of view. It just doesn’t make good sense.”

    Well said, and he echo’s Dr. Squires congressional testimony.

    • Guest

      That’s not what I heard. He distinctly said both the SLS and Orion were ‘great’ in congressional testimony. Look it up.

    • amightywind

      Dr. Squyres slow drives on Mars are beginning to bore me. If you want to talk about high operating costs, look no further than ISS.

    • Vladislaw

      This statement?

      “Statement of Steven W. Squyres
      Goldwin Smith Professor of Astronomy
      Cornell University
      Before the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
      United States Senate
      September 12, 2012

      So I disagree with critics who contend that NASA does not have clear goals for human exploration beyond low Earth orbit. In fact, the goals are quite clear, and they have been articulated without ambiguity. Moreover, two of the key elements for achieving those goals – SLS and Orion – are in development and proceeding well.

      But I see two significant problems.

      One is that the “pay-as-you-go” approach called for in the 2010 Authorization Act can result in disturbingly slow progress if funding levels are inadequate. The current costconstrained development schedule for SLS and Orion calls for:

      • In 2014, an orbital test flight of an Orion capsule with no crew, to be launched on a Delta 4 Heavy.

      • In 2017, a lunar flyby test flight of an Orion capsule with no crew, to be launched on a 70-metric ton SLS.

      • In 2021, nine years from now, the first flight of a crew in an Orion capsule, again launched on a 70-metric ton SLS, on some mission to be determined.

      Subsequent missions would occur on a pay-as-you-go basis, with a launch roughly every two years.

      I believe that the low flight rate currently projected for SLS and Orion is a cause for concern. No human-rated launch system in NASA’s history has flown so infrequently. With such a low launch rate it would not just be difficult to maintain program momentum; it would be difficult to keep flight teams sharp and mission-ready.

      A more serious concern is that the SLS/Orion combination alone is insufficient to carry out missions to any important destinations beyond low Earth orbit. The Orion capsule can support a crew of four for three weeks, which is far too short a time to conduct a mission to an asteroid. An asteroid mission therefore requires development of another major piece of hardware, capable of providing crew support in deep space for many months. There is no funding in NASA’s budget to develop this hardware.

      Three weeks is enough time for a mission to the surface of the Moon, which like an asteroid mission could be a reasonable stepping-stone to Mars. But such a mission would require a lunar lander, which again is not in NASA’s budget.

      So if we truly intend to have a program of human exploration to some destination beyond low Earth orbit, there is a piece of the puzzle missing. SLS and Orion will be highly capable vehicles, and their development is progressing well. But they are only part of the
      picture. Without some means to develop or acquire the missing piece – either a deepspace habitation module or a lunar lander – a decade from now NASA will be unable to do much more in deep space than duplicate the success of Apollo 8’s historic mission to orbit the Moon, more than half a century later.”

      • Guest

        “SLS and Orion will be highly capable vehicles, and their development is progressing well.”

        Yeah, that part. He said they were both ‘great’.

        So I guess I do take issue with his statements. He has praised these developments multiple times, but in public and in front of committee and congress. These are demonstrable facts.

      • Vladislaw

        Kind of confusing actually. He states:

        “A more serious concern is that the SLS/Orion combination alone is insufficient to carry out missions to any important destinations beyond low Earth orbit. The Orion capsule can support a crew of four for three weeks, which is far too short a time to conduct a mission to an asteroid.”

        Okay .. this is not just a concern.. it is a MORE serious concern. What is that more serious concern? It is not very capable and is actually INcapable of performing future missions.

        Then in summation says:

        SLS and Orion will be highly capable vehicles, and their development is progressing well.

        One year later .. we get the OIG report and … whew .. a scathing review of incompetitence, busted budgets as far as the eye can see and schedules that call into question crediblity.

        Not really what I would call .. progressing well.

  • Vladislaw

    Okay .. he is asked this:

    You’re also not a fan of NASA’s plan to lasso an asteroid, bring it near the moon, and then send humans to stand upon it. Why?

    Congress is already saying what NASA is doing is wrong

    Now the whole screed he rants about is the totally wrong direction congress is driving NASA then turns right around and uses congress as being the correct guiding light for NASA for not doing the asteroid mission.

    It would have been better to not say that at all.

  • Fred Willett

    If SLS is so limited that it requires other infrastructure – an in space transport and a lander for the Moon and Mars – then perhaps the President ought to consider deferring SLS.
    We could spend some time and money on technologies that might reduce the risk and cost of HSF then pick up SLS again in a few years when the new technologies make it a bit cheaper.
    Oh wait! Didn’t Obama propose that???
    Didn’t congress choose instead to charge off down a blind alley???
    Well here we are. And all around I see dead ends.

  • Dark Blue Nine

    And ATK repeatedly can’t even cast new SRB motors for the ground tests leading up to EM-1 without dangerous voids appearing in the propellant:

    http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2013/09/atknasa-void-issue-sls-test-motor-segment/

    Gotta love “heritage” designs and systems (plus or minus pesky details like liner and insulation materials)…

  • Guest

    To me Chris’ most notable comment was that Charlie Bolden is a flyboy who doesn’t know what it takes to do a big program. Its too bad that bolden was sngled out. Bolden has lots of support staff. The real question isnwhy there is not anyone in the humam space flight top management echelon that has a clue of what it takes to do a big program? They are all ex astronauts or ex flight directors-Gerst didn’t even make it that far. He was a procedures writer. The enti re lot is clueless, which is why Constellation, and Orion were hosed from the start.

  • Vladislaw

    Deep Space Industries got the nod from NASA, for three presentations, about the recent RFI on asteroid ideas they wanted to check out.

    NASA Selects Deep Space Industries for Multiple Presentations

    I believe Planetary Resources – mission made the big splash when they raised 1.5 million in crowd funding a space telescope.

    I wonder how it was decided who would make presentations, who had the most ex NASA people?

  • NASA Watch just posted Lori Garver’s departing remarks, among which were an allegation that Michael Griffin put out the word to his people not to cooperate with the Obama administration transition team:

    http://nasawatch.com/archives/2013/09/notes-from-nasa.html

    • Dark Blue Nine

      And that Griffin had his wife run a campaign to keep him in office. I do recall an email from her to supporters that went public, as well as Horowitz’s online survey to keep Griffin. I had forgotten how squirrely Griffin was.

    • common sense

      Whether one likes Lori or not I think we should all wonder why a necessary agent of change sees the need to depart the agency that is in such a dire need of change.

      Those who think NASA does not need to change are delusional or don’t work or interact in any way with NASA.

      Lori, and Charlie, have put NASA on the right track by opening it to commercial partners even more than before. On that topic those who think NASA does things on its own are as delusional as those who think NASA does not need to change.

      NASA has an enormous pool of talents that need to be steered to help the US public at large all the while accomplishing their NASA specific missions. Is it possible? Of course it is. Can we be on the Moon as so many are dreaming of? Absolutely. On Mars? Possibly. Should we allocate $3.0B to the private sector. Maybe. It all depends how we go about it. Do we need a vision? Yes and no. We have the VSE which was not all that bad. Let’s implement the darn thing and forget big phallic symbol who only impress the space cadets of here and there.

      Anyway. I hope NASA understands that a $2.5B cut only is the beginning. Why might you ask? Simple. If NASA can accomplish their mission with their allotted funds they will never see any increase for a long time. Who will decide if they can accomplish? Well simple. Those who have already cut the budget. So? I’ll leave it to you to formulate the future.

      • common sense wrote:

        Whether one likes Lori or not I think we should all wonder why a necessary agent of change sees the need to depart the agency that is in such a dire need of change.

        Sometimes it’s easier for force change by being on the outside. Let’s say in the 1960s that Martin Luther King somehow managed to get elected to Congress. He would no longer be able to lead an effective resistance, or else he’d be a one-term Congressman.

        Personally, I think Lori has done all she can do on the inside. Congress, reluctantly, is starting to acknowledge they can’t kill commercial crew without killing the ISS. No one seriously contends any more that SLS/Orion can be used for ISS space taxi service. No one is suggesting NASA start planning a government space taxi vehicle. This game is won.

        NASA has signed a number of Space Act Agreements, funded and unfunded, that have positioned the private sector to take over Low Earth Orbit. The big one, in my opinion, is the unfunded SAA in March between NASA and Bigelow for what may lead one day to a commercial lunar program. Unless Congress passes a law prohibiting it, it’s going to move forward.

        Those who think NASA does not need to change are delusional or don’t work or interact in any way with NASA.

        I’m watching a 3 1/2 hour video of a May 1991 House hearing on the ballooning Space Station Freedom costs. Nothing much has changed in 22 years. Members of Congress beating up on an administrator about understated costs because Congress mandated NASA take a particular direction. I’m uploading the video now to YouTube and it should be available tomorrow; it’s a fascinating watch.

        I hope NASA understands that a $2.5B cut only is the beginning.

        I’m constantly reminding people that the bottom line for the U.S. space program is no longer NASA’s budget. It’s NASA + NewSpace. If you look at it that way, then the budget is way up.

  • Guest

    Posted just two hours ago by Mark Matthews in the Orlando Sentinel : New NASA rocket faces delays. Lori Garver Verses Congress, Boeing and NASA. No wonder she left.

    http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/politics/os-nasa-sls-garver-20130906,0,5536178.story

    • DCSCA

      No wonder she left.

      You’d do well to review her days at NSI/NSS. As a lobbyist, she advocated station over a return to the moon. GHarver has been part of the problem for decades. The best thing to happen to NASA in years has been her departure.

  • common sense

    “It’s NASA + NewSpace. If you look at it that way, then the budget is way up.”

    I specifically meant NASA where so many still don’t understand the tea leaves and it’s not HSF only. A lot of areas will be re-assessed…

  • DCSCA

    Kraft-1/ Wrong about SLs; 2/ Right about a return to Luna 3/ right about interns.

    ____________

    “I’m watching a 3 1/2 hour video of a May 1991 House hearing on the ballooning Space Station Freedom costs. Nothing much has changed in 22 years.” says Stephen.

    =yawn= Seen it. You’d do well to review some of the transcripts and early video available on hearings as well as press reports on contracting and cost overruns on shuttle.

  • DCSCA

    Postscript= Kraft is right about Bolden, as well.

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