Events, NASA, Other

Shutdown scenes from a spaceflight symposium

Despite the federal government shutdown, the US Naval Institute proceeded with a history symposium titled “Past, Present, and Future of Human Space Flight” at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, on Thursday. “The conference IS NOT AFFECTED by the government shut down,” the conference website stated, but that was only partially accurate. The shutdown in particular caused some changes to the lineup of speakers, as NASA personnel who had scheduled to participate were no longer able to.

This could be seen clearly in the midday panel about the International Space Station, which was to feature four NASA astronauts, including a video link to astronauts Mike Hopkins and Karen Nyberg on the station. That live link wasn’t possible, but the organizers were able to get a brief recorded video message from the two astronauts. Another scheduled participant, astronaut Chris Cassidy, was actually at the event but could not be on the panel because of the agency’s interpretation of the shutdown rules. However, it did not prevent Cassidy, a Naval Academy graduate and active duty Naval officer, from talking to a crowd of midshipmen during a break in the conference.

The shutdown also prevented NASA administrator Charles Bolden from participating in the last panel of the day, featuring representatives of companies developing commercial cargo and crew systems. Bolden, though, did provide a statement that the panel’s moderator, Commercial Spaceflight Federation president and former astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, read at the beginning of the session. In it, Bolden emphasized again the need for full funding of NASA’s commercial crew program. “Any reduction to the proposed level of funding for the commercial crew program will result in a delay” from the planned 2017 date for beginning those flights, according to the statement. “We are not helped by the current shutdown and will likely threaten our ability to make the already-delayed operational readiness date for commercial crew.”

One of the three commercial crew companies currently funded by NASA has already experienced some effects of the shutdown. Mark Sirangelo of Sierra Nevada Corporation said that the good news in the development of his company’s Dream Chaser vehicle is that they were able to anticipate many of the issues they faced in preparing the Dream Chaser engineering test article for its upcoming first glide flight at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center. “The bad news is that I didn’t anticipate everything I needed to anticipate. No one told me that, in the event of a US government shutdown, that the gates of Edwards Air Force Base would be locked and I can’t get to my space vehicle,” he said. “Assuming the government does get its act together and they un-padlock the gates, we will be flying the first test flight of our vehicle here very shortly.” Sirangelo said afterwards that the Dream Chaser was effectively ready for the test flight when the shutdown started, but that they need the NASA and Air Force personnel and resources currently unavailable during the shutdown to carry out the flight.

The agenda changes caused by the shutdown, though, offered some different, and no less interesting, insights from replacement speakers. The revised ISS panel replaced the active-duty NASA astronauts with some former astronauts, as well as former NASA administrator Michael Griffin. In his comments, Griffin said that the greatest long-term value of the station is its multinational partnership. He suggested, though, that this international partnership wasn’t alone sufficient to keep it operational. “The current administration hasn’t found any difficulty in canceling multinational programs,” he said, referring to the Constellation program. When pressed on this by the panel’s moderator, Miles O’Brien, Griffin confirmed that he considered Constellation, whose key elements—the Ares 1 and 5 rockets, Orion spacecraft, and Altair lander—were all planned to be developed by NASA, a multinational effort. “It was a multinational effort… It was fully intended to be.”

Later in the panel, Griffin endorsed continued operation of the ISS through at least 2020, if not beyond. “We spent all this effort, all this political capital, all this fiscal capital to built the space station, why would you think about anything other than trying to keep it functioning as long as you possibly could?” he said. “I don’t know of another large capital project on Earth that somebody puts a sunset on like that.” Of course, during Griffin’s tenure as administrator, NASA had committed to using the space station only through 2015.

20 comments to Shutdown scenes from a spaceflight symposium

  • Coastal Ron

    Later in the panel, Griffin endorsed continued operation of the ISS through at least 2020, if not beyond. “We spent all this effort, all this political capital, all this fiscal capital to built the space station, why would you think about anything other than trying to keep it functioning as long as you possibly could?” he said. “I don’t know of another large capital project on Earth that somebody puts a sunset on like that.”

    That’s going to rankle quite a few people, including SLS supporters that were hoping the funding stream for the SLS could be diverted to SLS-related hardware and program (especially since Congress has refused to fund any use for the SLS so far).

    Griffin’s comments, as bizarre as they may be due to his previous plan to end the ISS in 2015, could be very helpful when Congress starts considering whether or not to formally extend the mission of the ISS beyond 2020.

    Now if only Griffin would endorse an exploration program using existing commercial launch services…

  • amightywind

    We spent all this effort, all this political capital, all this fiscal capital to built the space station, why would you think about anything other than trying to keep it functioning as long as you possibly could?

    Not exactly a ringing endorsement. The space station is the root cause of our moribund post-shuttle space program. $3 billion a year for a whole lot of nothin’.

    • Coastal Ron

      amightywind said:

      $3 billion a year for a whole lot of nothin’.

      - An ongoing operational tempo that keeps our astronaut corp intact and trained for increasingly more complex space operations.

      - A persistent and capable laboratory for testing a myriad of medical and space-related challenges that HAVE to be addressed before we leave LEO on meaningful missions.

      - The opportunity to test and implement modern and lower cost cargo and crew transportation systems that will allow NASA to do more with less money.

      Suffice it to say that your perception of what we’re doing with that $3B/year differs from mine…

    • Coastal Ron

      As if to bolster my point, NASASpaceFlight.com has a new article called “ISS hardware issues providing lessons to be learned for BEO missions” that talks about the lessons we are learning on the ISS that can only come from being in space. Not only that, they are lessons that need to be learned while close to Earth, and not on the way to Mars or some other distant destination.

      It seems like you and DCSCA would rather risk people’s lives prematurely, which would also risk our future space exploration efforts. Unless or until we have some sort of “National Imperative” with an acknowledged need date, working out our operational and technical challenges in LEO is the least expensive (and quickest) approach for preparing us for going BEO.

  • DCSCA

    “We spent all this effort, all this political capital, all this fiscal capital to built the space station, why would you think about anything other than trying to keep it functioning as long as you possibly could?” [Griffin] said. “I don’t know of another large capital project on Earth that somebody puts a sunset on like that.”

    The Super Collider comes to mind, although that debacle was thankfully terminated before it got operational in Texas.

    The ROI of the ISS does not justify continuing to fund it. LEO is a ticket o no place, gonig in circles, no where, fast. Worse, musings by Griffin on HSF are a detriment. That he pitched- or clings- to Constellation, again, as a ‘multi-national project’ to a clearly skeptical moderator, Miles O’Brien, underscores Griffin’s delusions and attempt to salvage his rep for irresponsible management. Conssellation was a NASA program, as Griffin well knows and to spin otherwise simply doesnt fly. The fiscal mess with Ares, which was his baby– and a lousy rocket to build a 30 year program around– is what brought Constellation down. Griffin and Garver have finally reached common ground: they are part of the past and the sooner ignored and forgotten, the better for the future of NASA and HSF.

  • Dark Blue Nine

    “‘It was a multinational effort… It was fully intended to be.’”

    “Was” and “intended” are two different things. My wife doesn’t give me points for my “good intentions” to mow the lawn. I actually have to get it done. Griffin could have had all the angelic thoughts in the world about foreign cooperation and Constellation, but with no foreign contributions to Constellation resulting from these pretty notions, they’re useless.

    And given the amount of time that lapsed with nothing to show for it, it’s hard to believe that Griffin or anyone else ever really “intended” for Constellation to be “international”. Griffin was in office for four years and Constellation ran five. Over a half decade of expensive foreign trips, meaningless public relations documents, and worthless meetings went by and there were no foreign contributions, elements, agreements, or even one lousy tentative joint announcement about Constellation to show for it. Even the slow-as-molasses ISS (then Freedom) program had European and Japanese contributions within three years of announcement.

    “‘We spent all this effort, all this political capital, all this fiscal capital to built the space station, why would you think about anything other than trying to keep it functioning as long as you possibly could?’ he said. ‘I don’t know of another large capital project on Earth that somebody puts a sunset on like that.’”

    Call Guinness. Griffin may qualify as the world’s biggest hypocrite.

    What a joke of a NASA administrator.

    • common sense

      “‘It was a multinational effort… It was fully intended to be.’”

      Not true. As soon as Griffing came on board all international (most of them) collaboration were called off for Constellation.

      • Hiram

        “As soon as Griffin came on board all international (most of them) collaboration were called off for Constellation.”

        A bit more complicated than that. Internationals were specifically not invited to participate in Constellation vehicle and propulsion efforts, and were instead invited to participate in robotic and surface architectures (habs, rovers, etc.). As in, we’ll get you there, and you folks help us do good stuff when we do. A bit like ISS where, in the shuttle era, we’ll get your stuff and astronauts up there, and you help us do good stuff when we do.

        That’s why Mike Griffin fervently believes that the effort he was going to lead was an “international” one. Our prospective international partners on Constellation sure weren’t happy about that though.

        • common sense

          Not to contradict you but the main thrust of Constellation was the CEV and Ares I/V. International partners were asked to participate in things that were not even programmed therefore canceling all that had started under O’Keefe.

          Go ask LMT about their plans with EADS for example…

          So nope. Not international whatsoever.

          • Hiram

            ESAS had some clear focus on lunar surface architecture. In fact, ESAS mapped out power, thermal control, avionics, ECLS, habitability systems, mechanisms, ISRU, and operations for that surface architecture, in addition to in-space architecture. Those things were very much “programmed”, and a lot of it was handed off to international partners. While it is true that the main thrust of Constellation for us was Orion, Altair and Ares/EDS, and to some extent those vehicles defined Constellation for us, the greater goals that Constellation were going to serve needed more than transport vehicles.

            I think that when Griffin defends Constellation as being an international endeavor, he’s referring to those greater goals. To the extent that Constellation was created to serve VSE (which yes, it did not follow exactly, though Mike swore that it would), VSE clearly called for promoting international and commercial participation to further U.S. scientific, security, and economic interests.

            • common sense

              ESAS, not withstanding that it was a poorly done study that could have shown really early on that Ares I would never lift the CEV, aside from that, is not a “program”. It was a poorly done 90 day – if I recall – study to determine the next 20 years or so of HSF at NASA. Pathetic.

              Now maybe I did not express myself well. In my mind “programmed” meant “budgeted” in some form. How do you convince partners, international or any kind, to start working on lunar habitats or even robots when the main transportation system does not even exist?

              On the other hand, I guess, since someone at ESA is supposed to build 1 (one!) SM for Orion we might call it now a multinational effort.

              But in any case. This is a lot of nonsense. This is not how you ready an effort for the next 20 years of HSF, let alone an international one!

              • Hiram

                You do ESAS more justice than it was due. It was a 60-day study, not a 90-day study, and as such, was even more a “rush job” that produced pretty much the quality of what rush jobs usually produce.

                Lots of equipment is built by internationals for ISS assuming components that don’t yet exist, so I’d assume that Mike wanted to forge international participation with Constellation on that ISS management model. Constellation “existed” in the minds of senior NASA officials. Um, just like SLS now exists in the minds of NASA officials. Is there any question why NASA is having a hard time organizing prospective users for SLS?

                Now, in his defense, I guess Mike was just trying to develop a space transportation system that wasn’t dependent on international contributions, which are tough to manage and coordinate. If international partners cratered on producing surface architecture, it wouldn’t keep us from going back to the Moon to leave more footprints. In fact, while those contributions are hard to manage, it’s well understood that the international agreements that underpin them are extremely hard to cancel. So Constellation as a space transportation enterprise might well have survived if it was a real international partnership.

              • common sense

                “Mike was just trying to develop a space transportation system that wasn’t dependent on international contributions”

                He should have left alone the way it started under O’Keefe. Contractors were better suited to determine what to do given the set of requirements. International, domestic or otherwise. When Boeing builds a new commercial aircraft they know very well how to use the different synergies domestic/international economic/political to reap the most of their endeavors. NASA cannot. NASA is even banned from talking to China off some moronic excuse from a senile Congressman. NASA has no business designing, integrating and somehow producing any vehicle, except for X-vehicles which I believe took a nose dive under Griffin.

                Anyway 90 day or 60 day gives an idea of the poor management of the whole thing.

                I am sure Griffin also believed he’d have Sen. Shelby in his pocket as a supporter. I guess he did but at what cost to the whole program?

                There is this program called POST that can tell you if your rocket will perform properly, and your reentering capsule as well. There are other “engineering” tools that can do the same for aerodynamics and aerothermal performances. When used properly they tell you what will work or not work. There is actually more than that. And guess what! They are NASA tools. So I don’t know what they used for ESAS, maybe Excel, but it did not work all that well.

                Note that the same clowns brought us the Sidemount monstrosity with total disregard of “common sense” abort scenarios that most likely would have killed the crew. Well at least I think Griffin was not part of it.

                Anyway. Off topic I know. But it’s nice to vent on occasion if I may say so myself.

              • Hiram

                “Contractors were better suited to determine what to do given the set of requirements. International, domestic or otherwise.”

                That’s true in general, but major federal investments can’t have contractors formalizing international agreements to achieve national goals. When Boeing builds a commercial aircraft, it isn’t using taxpayer money to achieve national goals. So NASA (as the smart customer) and the State Department have important roles to play. Lockheed and Boeing aren’t gonna be signing any space MOUs with ESA, and there will always be ITAR issues to resolve. Contractors can propose implementation plans, but they’ll need NASA and DoS to formalize them.

                Bottom line was that VSE made Griffin need to pretend that international participation was being encouraged. So he did that, in a hand-wavey sort of way. But he drew a line around the transportation hardware and told internationals not to cross it.

                Now, as to being given sets of requirements, the issue is whether this is about a top-down or bottoms-up design strategy. That’s really a topic for discussion about commercialization. It’s true that NASA should hold up a wad of cash, and say, “get us safely to the Moon!” But that’s not the historic perspective of NASA, who feel that they know more about vehicle design than the major aerospace contractors.

              • common sense

                I think we agree overall and I am discounting the government in the international game. Ever one has a role to play.

              • common sense

                …not discounting…

              • Hiram

                Roger that.

  • Ben Russell-Gough

    Mike Griffin is, if nothing else, a supreme political creature. He knows where the wind is blowing at any given time and is smart enough to act as if that particular gust is something that he has always thought and supported. Basically, what he says can be translated as: “Gizajob”.

    • DCSCA

      Mike Griffin is, if nothing else, a supreme political creature.

      Except he’s not. He was canned and his ‘baby’ aka Ares/Constellation aborted.

      • Ben Russell-Gough

        Yeah, he fought like a tiger for his project and suffered for it. He learnt his lesson from that: Ever since, as I said, he has the infallible ability to say whatever is currently the flavour of the political moment.

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