Congress, NASA

Another plea to get the politics out of space

With a continuing resolution in place until mid-January, work on fiscal year 2014 appropriations bills awaits efforts by budget negotiators in the House and Senate to come up with topline budget numbers that can then feed into appropriations efforts, something that may not be complete until December although appropriators are pressing for faster action. And there remains, of course, the threat of another round of sequestration, although sequestration would work differently in 2014, and not necessarily be as severe as in 2013.

That’s of little consolation to one key senator. “Sequestration will slit the throat of NASA,” Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) told Florida Today earlier this week. “It’ll cut the heart out of the manned space program.” Nelson, a member of the Senate’s budget committee, wants to get rid of sequestration, although he doesn’t describe his alternative approach in the article.

In another article in the Houston Chronicle (non-subscriber version here), Nelson laments the perceived descent of NASA into partisan politics, as he has in the recent past. “What is sad to me is that NASA has always been above politics,” he told the Chronicle. “Now it’s gotten to be a partisan issue and that is a sad day for the country.”

The Chronicle, in an editorial Thursday, supported Nelson’s call for moving NASA above partisan politics, claiming that “politics of a more destructive, partisan sort have indeed threatened NASA.” (One curious example it cites is “President Barack Obama’s decision to bypass Johnson Space Center as the location for one of the retired space shuttles,” although a NASA Office of Inspector General report on the shuttle selection process found “no attempt by White House officials to direct or influence Bolden’s decision making.”) It endorses a concept proposed by Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), among several other House members. for multi-year appropriations, a ten-year term for a NASA administrator, and other measures that the paper believes will remove partisan influence from NASA. (Legislation enabling those changes has not advanced in the House or the Senate.)

Even if such changes were enacted, it’s not clear how they would eliminate partisan budget battles in a constrained fiscal environment like the one that exists today. Either NASA must become so important, and with universal agreement about what it should be doing, that it rises above such debates; or, it becomes so unimportant that Congress focuses its debates—and funding—on more critical programs.

96 comments to Another plea to get the politics out of space

  • To quote the young Drew Barrymore in E.T., “Give me a break.”

    Nelson doesn’t lament politics in space policy. He laments partisan politics in space policy.

    He’s perfectly happy with bipartisan porking in space policy, as he and Kay Bailey Hutchison practiced for years. His “monster rocket,” the Space Launch System (aka the Senate Launch System), is a guaranteed $1.5 billion per year pork-o-fest for certain NASA space centers and OldSpace government contractors, but it has no missions or destinations.

    I think that, in a way, Nelson means well, but he’s stuck in the OldSpace paradigm which has to die if we’re ever going to accomplish anything in space.

  • Matt

    I agree with Stephen… Nelson is a hypocrite. He would rather spend the governments money foolishly on archaic designs to pork driven companies. He just wants his way and he’s using this sympathy tactic

    • Gary Warburton

      Yes, and if he had not gone along with this push for SLS maybe we wouldn`t have been stuck with this archaic rocket as then they wouldn`t have been able to claim it was a nonpartisan effort. It was his pushing that got Obama to agree to do it.

  • DCSCA

    “Nelson laments the perceived descent of NASA into partisan politics.”

    Who is he kidding. Politics got him his seat for a wasted junket ride on STS-24 when he was in the House. Sheeeesh.

    Nelson ought to do a little homework before sounding off and sounding so foolish.

    HSF is an instrument of politics; a means of projecting national policy– it’s political science, not rocket science that fuels it.

    HSF in this era projects geo-political influence, economic vigor and technical prowess, around the globe for the nation(s) that choose to do it. And it plays out on a stage with high visibility that demands performance with engineering excellence from all the actors. The bounties from which are all reaped by the participating nation(s) on Earth. That’s why government’s do it.

    HSF is, in effect, a loss leader in this era for projecting national power and nurturing a perception of leadership. And in politics, perception is a reality.

    The space program was born out of the politics of the Cold War; the ‘space race’ was fueled by the politics of the time; the installations around the country distributed, built and funded by the politics of pork; Apollo itself was a political football kicked around relentlessly by conservatives in Congress in the early 60s. Indeed, GOP conservative Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater attacked it with a line his Cow Palace acceptance speech although it was lost in the smoke of more fiery, ‘extremist’ rhetoric. [Yet he made sure he was at the 11 launch in '69, with LBJ.] And the Apollo fire hearings were a political show trial for skeptics and fiscal opponents to the program. Even Apollo 11 was politically manhandled when Nixon, ever wary of the JFK ghost, replaced the USS John F. Kennedy with the Hornet as the prime recovery ship. And 11 planted a U.S. flag on Luna– quite a political symbol to be sure– to placate the taxpayers who paid the Cold War freight. Nixon injected himself into the moonwalk itself with a phone call and split screen TV image w/Neil and Buzz when, in fact, he had little to do w/t program– but made sure his name was etched on the lunar plaques on the LMs left behind. And Nixon politicos guided Apollo to a premature termination, using a political overlay map on districts w/space installations to make the decisions that ultimately condemned the U.S. to LEO HSF ops for decades w/shuttle. Ford waved the flag with ASTP which the managers who flew it say it was little more than a political show and a wasted use of hardware. And one look at the shuttle tells you it was designed by a committee– civil and military, and Reagan wrapped it in the flag while pressing to privatize it– which proved to be literally a disaster. And the space station itself was announced in a political speech by Reagan three decades ago and the politics of funding it, saving it and finally building it ultimately used geo-politics as the core rationale for assembling it.

    America’s civil space program was born out of politics, lives and breathes politicsa and will survive or die because of politics. And Nelson knows it.

    • Hiram

      “America’s civil space program was born out of politics, lives and breathes politicsa and will survive or die because of politics. And Nelson knows it.”

      I think that’s well said, and exactly right. It’s unfortunate. That’s where the Chinese have one up on us, I guess.

      One can lament the perceived descent of ANY agency into partisan politics. Does Nelson really think that only NASA deserves not to be driven by partisan politics? In a strange way, such a descent is indicative of the value of the work that agency does, because that work then bears on the partisan world views of what’s good for the country. Of course, the value it indicates for NASA is as a pail for throwing dollars around the nation. In Florida, in particular, for Nelson. I guess if partisan politics didn’t pay any attention to it, it would signify that NASA wasn’t much of an issue in what was good for the country.

      • common sense

        Not all true. BUT. This is the perception and precisely why we are trying to take it out of political control and into a real market. So hopefully it will not die before we are successfully developing a market and no longer at the mercy of Congress. Well. Not at the total mercy of Congress. What is not?

        • Hiram

          “This is the perception and precisely why we are trying to take it out of political control and into a real market.”

          Fair point. DCSCA was referring to “America’s civil space program” that lives and breathes politics. I was referring to NASA. Of course, to DCSCA, those are identical. You can’t extricate NASA from politics. But if one can make America’s civil space program controlled and driven by a real market, it need not be at the mercy of Congress.

          • common sense

            In several of your posts you have been trying to engage DCSCA as if you might have a reasonable conversation. And on occasion DCSCA has a point, only on occasion, just like windy. But their posts usually go nowhere. Indeed to DCSCA “America’s civil space program” is limited to NASA and the HSF side of NASA. But what a limitation! Forget a minute the HSF side of it. Think satellites and you will see a vibrant commercial sector, actually America’s civil space program. By the way, no one is asking why we need to launch communication satellites, right? And that is because they are commercial services to the people. NASA may or may not be directly associated with it. Unfortunately when SS/L, say, decides to launch an american made TV satellite which is part of America’s civil space program, where do they launch from? The emergence of SpaceX – and others! – not only will provides an opportunity for HSF for America but also for other actors that today have to launch using foreign LVs.

            DCSCA’s discourse is so limited and based on 50 year old facts that unfortunately I have learned to not respond, essentially, to their rants. Those of windy are based on the ongoing Cold War in his head.

            I appreciate your efforts though. Good luck.

            • Hiram

              There are contributors here who genuinely have views that are political rationale-based. They might not be views I agree with. Then there are others, whose views are simply based on political hatred. They don’t offer those views in the spirit of discourse. The former deserve some response. The latter probably don’t.

            • vulture4

              “no one is asking why we need to launch communication satellites, right?”

              With the exception of military communications satellites, we don’t. Boeing and Lockheed abandoned the commercial satellite market when it became more profitable to merge and jack up the price of the captive US government market. SpaceX may get it back.

            • DCSCA

              In several of your posts..” weeps CS.

              You’re projecting again.
              Indeed, your entire position is predicated on projecting false equivalency in a desperate, vain attempt to establish parody. But reality keeps gettin in the way for you. ‘NewSpacers’ best wake up and smell the coffee. Garver did. You have failed to even attempt to launch, orbit and return anybody safely from LEO– an accomplishment NASA- the government civil space agency accomplished well over half a centuty ago. Project Mercury ended fifty years ago– and you ‘NewSpacers’ have flown nobody.

              “Forget a minute the HSF side of it.”

              No. Because that’s what it is all about. And NewSpacers know it.

              It is space projects of scale that matter. Which is why, in the long run, short-sighted forays by deep-pocketed NewSpace hobbyists do not.

              HSF is an instrument of politics; a means of projecting national policy– it’s political science, not rocket science that fuels it. HSF in this era projects geo-political influence, economic vigor and the technical prowess around the globe for the nation(s) that choose to do it. And it plays out on a stage with high visibility that demands performance with engineering excellence from all the actors. The bounties from which are reaped by the participating nation(s) through many industries– primary and support- on Earth.

              HSF is, in effect, a loss leader in this era for projecting national power and nurturing a perception of leadership. And in politics, perception is a reality as Nelson fully knows. Which makes a drive to establishing a permanent foothold on Luna, seen around the world by all peoples in their evening skies, all the more imperative for the United States in this century.

              Commercial is welcome to come along for the ride– to supplement and service an exploration/exploitation outpost ‘hub’ on Luna, established by governent(s). But they’ll never lead the way in establishing such a facility on their own. History has shown this repeatedly over the 80-plus year histroy of modern rocketry. The largess of the capital requirements involved coupled w/t low to no ROI prevents it; the very parameters of the market it is trying to create and service.

              That’s why governments do it.
              And that’s why ‘NewSpace’ has not.

              In the long run, LEO is a ticket to no place, going in circles, no where, fast. And advocates for HSF in general and human space exploration in particular, know it. Which is why, on the map to the future of manned space exploration, ‘NewsSpace’ reads as a dead end.

          • Coastal Ron

            Hiram said:

            But if one can make America’s civil space program controlled and driven by a real market, it need not be at the mercy of Congress.

            It’s amazing how much the SLS (and the Orion to some degree) distort NASA and the whole conversation about what we should be doing in space.

            I say this because the SLS and the Orion/MPCV are not the result of an overall review of what our transportation and vehicles needs are today and in the future. They were created out of the cancellation of the Constellation program, and were the result of a valid concern – job losses during a recession – but not out of the known need for their capabilities.

            If the SLS disappeared tomorrow, and it was assumed our aerospace industry would take care of any future NASA transportation needs (which they can), then the politicians and various advocacy groups would be focused on what I think would be more meaningful discussions about what NASA should be doing next.

            It’s really because we have two large pots of money being guarded jealously by entrenched political interests that is really the biggest obstacle to putting NASA on a better path forward. For such a small government agency, it’s a little unique I would say. No other agency of this size has so much tied up in so few programs, which makes it such a ripe target for pork.

            Because of the SLS and Orion/MPCV, and the overall lack of money to use them, every conversation about what NASA should do next is forced to immediately compromise it’s goals.

            However, the bright spot in this is that it’s likely we are on the cusp of the point in history where the U.S. aerospace industry could slowly continue the push out into space, even if NASA goes away. I don’t see NASA going away, but certainly it’s ability to influence what happens is declining.

        • DCSCA

          “Not all true.”

          Except it is.

          “This is the perception and precisely why we are trying to take it out of political control and into a real market/”

          Trying? NewSpace has failed to even tried to fly anybody into and back from LEO– and we are well over half a centry from the close of Project Mercury. So peddlnig false equivalency isn’t going to pass as parody for NewSpace.

          It is the very parameters of the market- the largess of capital investment needed coupled with the low to no ROI that keep it from ever florishing. Over the 80 plus year of modern rocketry, every time the private sector was presented w/t opportunity to advance the technology and establish the market– it has balked, socializing the risk and letting governments carry the financial risk– and burden. There’s simply no market for it in this era.
          That’s why governments do it– to project geo-political power and enhance more down to earth technologies and associated economics. It is a loss leader.

          It is space projects of scale that matter. Which is why, in the long run, short-sighted forays by deep-pocketed NewSpace hobbyists- trying to go in circles, no where fast, in the wake of half a century of government HSF ops, do not.

          • Coastal Ron

            DCSCA whined:

            Except it is.

            Except it isn’t.

            So peddlnig false equivalency isn’t going to pass as parody for NewSpace.

            Which continues to show that you have no idea what defines “NewSpace”. One of the many differences is this:

            NASA can’t leave Earth’s atmosphere without an act of Congress. “NewSpace” can.

            It is space projects of scale that matter.

            Nope, not in this day and age. But since you never left the 60′s, you have a hard time understanding that.

            Spending $100B to send a privileged few to pick up rocks on an airless pile of rocks is the epitome of going nowhere fast – or certainly burning money fast with no real ROI.

            Until you understand why “The People’s Representatives” have not maintained a sustained interest in your precious “projects of scale” for HSF exploration glory, you will continue to be severely frustrated.

            And in case you haven’t noticed, the only “projects of scale” that have survived the longest, are the ones that “go in circles”.

            Galling, eh? ;-)

            • RockyMtnSpace

              “NASA can’t leave Earth’s atmosphere without an act of Congress. “NewSpace” can.”

              Wrong again Ron. Newspace rocketeers needed an act of Congress to enable them to be licensed to fly in the first place (FAA) and are dependent upon Congress to re-new the CLSA to protect them financially (3rd party liability indemnification). Please do some research before you post.

              • Coastal Ron

                RockyMtnSpace said:

                Newspace rocketeers needed an act of Congress to enable them to be licensed to fly in the first place (FAA)…

                You’re assuming existing law doesn’t already give the FAA (and the other controlling agencies) authority to license flights.

                And you ignore the realities in play here. Regulations are far easier to get enacted than funding for $2.5B rocket launches, especially when that $2.5B doesn’t even include the payload or mission costs.

                As it stands today, the House has already voted to make it illegal for NASA to use any money to plan an asteroid mission, whereas no one in Congress is trying to make it illegal for NewSpace to launch rockets.

                …and are dependent upon Congress to re-new the CLSA to protect them financially (3rd party liability indemnification).

                That is a “nice to have”, not a requirement.

                Please do some research before you post.

                I’m certainly not seeing any from you… ;-)

            • DCSCA

              Nope, not in this day and age.

              Yep, it does. In case you;ve forgotten, the ISS is a government ‘space project of scale’ Ron, that desperate NewSpacers cling to to pulse life into their claim of ‘market to service’ to justify subsidies and seek investment. Without that governmnt ‘space project of scale’, NewSpace is dead.

            • RockyMtnSpace

              “You’re assuming existing law doesn’t already give the FAA …”

              No Ron. Sigh …, I’ll spell it out for you since you can’t seem to understand.

              The 1998 Commercial Space Act was amended in 2004 (by Congress Ron) to specifically promote the development of the emerging commercial human space flight industry. As part of that legislation, it assigned responsibility to the Department of Transportation to regulate the operations and safety of the emerging commercial human space flight industry. DOT exercises this responsibility through the FAA. This act of congress is what has enabled SpaceX, Orbital, et. al. the legal ability to entertain human space flight operations.

              “And you ignore the realities in play here. Regulations are far easier to get enacted …”

              And you are avoiding the central point of my response to your inaccurate statement that “NASA can’t leave Earth’s atmosphere without an act of Congress. “NewSpace” can.”. Newspace launchers, particularly those that are positing themselves as human space flight providers, couldn’t get off the ground without an act of Congress. The rest of your response about the ARM mission et al is just senseless blather about a subject no one has raised.

              And 3rd party indemnification is not a “nice to have”. As it stands, with CSLA in place, SpaceX, and others, need only carry between $100M to $500M in 3rd party liability insurance (it depends on the reliability of the launcher, the launch site and potential for damages, etc.) at a cost of roughly 2% of the covered amount. The US Govt then covers above that amount up to roughly $2.7B. If SpaceX had to carry that amount on their own insurance coverage, it would add over $50M to each and every launch. So no, it is not a “nice to have”, it is critical to any launchers financial well being.

              Research Ron, you ought to try it sometime.

              • Coastal Ron

                RockyMtnSpace said:

                As part of that legislation, it assigned responsibility to the Department of Transportation to regulate the operations and safety of the emerging commercial human space flight industry.

                Boy, you need it spelled out for you, huh?

                Regulating commerce is not deficit spending, since the taxes collected from the commerce more than cover the act of regulating that commerce.

                NASA, being a government agency and not a for-profit institution, is deficit spending, which takes an act of Congress to approve.

                If you can’t understand that difference, then we have nothing further to discuss.

                And 3rd party indemnification is not a “nice to have”.

                It boils down to pricing. Without the indemnification prices will rise, but some activity will still happen. The question is whether the price increase will affect the competitiveness of U.S. launch providers?

                Maybe it will, but until it happens we won’t know. Estimates before such a thing takes place are just that, estimates.

                And again, the launch indemnification costs are funded by taxes generated by the industry itself, which is why the government has an interest in the indemnification in the first place – it promotes commerce.

                Congress “letting” commerce happen is part of the reason they exist, so I don’t fawn over them when they do what they are elected to do.

                Ponying up $2.5B for an SLS launch is a different thing. If Congress doesn’t approve that deficit spending, then NASA is going nowhere.

                And again, if you don’t understand that, then we have nothing further to discuss.

            • RockyMtnSpace

              “Regulating commerce is not deficit spending, since …”

              Wow. You’re right. You can’t argue with stupid. Have a nice day Ron. Sheesh!

          • Vladislaw

            Really? Since Mercury? There was a “newspace” back then? And they were back benching it and not REALLY trying to fly to LEO?

            Gosh, who knew.. can you show me the congressional minutes and the name of the house and senate bills that ordered the FAA to create the regulatory regime for private companies to launch rockets with humans on it?

            Can you show me the congressional minutes and the name of the house and senate bills that ordered the Dept of Transportation to create the regulartory regime for private rocket launches with humans on it?

            Can you show me the congressional minutes and the name of the house and senate bills that ordered the liabilty regime for private companies to launch rockets with humans on it?

            Once again you try and pass off this total load of BS. Not until the military gave a green light for the Xprize has there been a backdoor to finally launch something with a human on it by the private sector. and this was NO WAY a COMMERCIAL ride, it was experimental. It took almost a decade after that to put laws and regs in place and they are still not even done with the process today.

    • Coastal Ron

      DCSCA whined:

      HSF in this era projects geo-political influence, economic vigor and technical prowess, around the globe for the nation(s) that choose to do it.

      You have failed to provide any evidence of this, even after repeated requests. Regardless, the world could care less if America spends money to sent astronauts to space, as everyone would know we’re just repeating what we did 50 years ago. Ooh, so inspiring!

      In fact, the only “geo-political influence” going on here concerns states like Florida, Texas and Alabama, which just happen to be the states that are benefiting the most from pork programs like the Senate Launch System (SLS).

    • Ameriman

      The space program was born out of the politics of the Cold War;
      == ==
      Yes… the Federal Agency Nasa pork-fest was started by Democrat JFK, and assigned to Democrat VP LBJ..
      Democrat LBJ demanded a Texas share, hence the pure pork decision to create a MFC and locate it in LBJ’s Houston.

      When Von Braun’s plan was to use existing Saturn 1 boosters, fuel depots, and EOR to get to the Moon in 1967 for tens of $billions less… yet Democrat LBJ and the Dem Congress demanded more pork, hence the monster, unneeded, unsustainable Saturn V.

      When the shameful pork ISS was near cancellation, Democrat Bill Clinton rescued it… and now we have a useless $200 billion Democrat white elephant in orbit which even Nasa wants to dump in the Pacific..

      GWB created and funded COTS… before Democrat greed short funded it..
      Now Democrat Obama and a Dem Congress created the shameless, unneeded, unaffordable, unsustainable earmarked pork SLS/Orion.. which Democrats earmarked to legacy Shuttle profiteers who contribute to Democrats…

      The US manned space program is a long history of Democrat greed, waste, incompetence, pork

      • Coastal Ron

        Ameriman blurted:

        When the shameful pork ISS was near cancellation, Democrat Bill Clinton rescued it… and now we have a useless $200 billion Democrat white elephant in orbit which even Nasa wants to dump in the Pacific.

        No one from NASA has stated that, so you must be hearing that from “lifers” that work on the SLS program.

        GWB created and funded COTS

        To be clear, Bush43 funded the Commercial Cargo, but not Commercial Crew – that was Obama.

        And while we’re at it, you left Bush43′s Constellation program off your rant list. That was a massive waste of time and money, and it was not going to produce anything truly useful. Regardless, I’m sure you’ll blame the Democrat Congress for that, right?

        Now Democrat Obama and a Dem Congress created the shameless, unneeded, unaffordable, unsustainable earmarked pork SLS/Orion.

        My how some people have selective memories. If you go back and actually look, the main three architects of the SLS are Nelson (D-FL), Shelby (R-AL) and Hutchison (R-TX). How come you glossed over the fact that Republicans were the majority on that?

  • amightywind

    A democrat laments the descent of NASA into politics. Hilarious! Behold the space program of the progressives! I don’t see politics being rolled back from NASA since so many leftist activists are now buried within its ranks. Like it or not, NASA is a reflection of the same cruddy administration who brought you healthcare.gov. Most prior administrations have shown restraint from naked politics in directing NASA. The current one is incapable of this. I’m not sure I’d want NASA apolitical anymore. I want the GOP to get even after all of this.

  • Coastal Ron

    amightywind said:

    I don’t see politics being rolled back from NASA since so many leftist activists are now buried within its ranks…

    I’m not sure I’d want NASA apolitical anymore. I want the GOP to get even after all of this.

    Apparently “leftist activists” are better at getting jobs at NASA than “rightist activists”? That’s the only explanation, since GOP presidents have held the White House for 20 of the past 33 years and 28 of the past 45, dating to the Nixon administration.

    Why do you think “leftist activists” are so much better at getting hired and promoted?

    Of course the normal reaction from a real conservative would be to say “the private sector can do the job better”, and in the case of space transportation, that would be true. But since you think the government is better at space transportation (i.e. your unwavering support for the SLS), apparently you have the same characteristics as the “leftist activists” you supposedly abhor.

    You are just a bundle of contradictions, eh? ;-)

    • amightywind

      Last I checked, SLS was being built by Lockheed Martin, Pratt, ATK…

      • Coastal Ron

        amightywind said:

        Last I checked, SLS was being built by Lockheed Martin, Pratt, ATK…

        When was the last time you checked? And was it in some sort of alternate reality?

        It’s amazing that you can be such a steadfast supporter of the SLS and not know much about it.

        For instance, Boeing is the prime contractor responsible for the SLS cryogenic stages and avionics, and Lockheed Martin is not involved with the SLS itself.

        As to “Pratt”, you are out of date on what’s going on, since Pratt & Whitney Space Propulsion and Boeing Rocketdyne Propulsion & Power were merged in 2005 to form Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne was sold to GenCorp in 2012, who then folded it into what they now call Aerojet Rocketdyne. In the rocket business, “Pratt” no longer exists except for old equipment markings.

        I hope your work is not this sloppy.

      • Bennett In Vermont

        “Last I checked, SLS was being built by Lockheed Martin, Pratt, ATK…”
         

        Especially ATK.  But the contracting method is pure cost plus, which is welfare for billionaires, not a reasonable profit for innovation, which is actually good for the country and its HSF program.
         

        But don’t let that stop you.

  • Coastal Ron

    With only 0.5% of the Federal Budget (and declining) it’s no wonder that NASA is caught up in the political battles of the Tea Party, the Republicans, and the Democrats.

    But the heart of the matter is that until everyone agrees what NASA is supposed to be and do, this disconnect will continue.

    For instance, Senator Nelson and other SLS supporters were clearly ignoring the The National Aeronautics and Space Act when they created the SLS. And at the time, they even admitted that the SLS was created because of jobs, not because of need.

    So until we get politicians to stop ignoring their own declarations and policies, there is little hope that NASA or any other federal agency will be free to follow “the right course”, whatever that may be.

    So what is the “right course” for NASA? Since there is no consensus, it would be stupid to codify new political rules around a lack of consensus. Just plain stupid. Our politicians have to do the job we citizens elected them to do, which means finding consensus between parties and between various factions.

    If they won’t do that, don’t reward them by letting them change the rules, just VOTE THEM OUT and vote in someone that will work towards finding a consensus and then sticking to it for the long term.

    It’s pretty simple folks.

    • E.P. Grondine

      Hi CR –

      The political process is how we identify problems we share in common (public), and how we address them.

      While others have other vies, my thinking is that ARM is exactly the right course for NASA now.

      • Coastal Ron

        E.P. Grondine said:

        The political process is how we identify problems we share in common (public), and how we address them.

        Well sure. I think the process for identifying problems is just as good as ever, but the process we use for addressing them is not only bad, but it’s been getting worse for some time now.

        While others have other vies, my thinking is that ARM is exactly the right course for NASA now.

        Count me as one of those people with opposing views. I see the motivation for the ARM as mainly to give the SLS something to do, and it’s purported benefits don’t really fit in with existing needs.

      • Hiram

        “While others have other vies, my thinking is that ARM is exactly the right course for NASA now.”

        I guess if you want to commit NASA to a dead-end that serves no real need, you’re probably right. NASA has a history of doing that kind of stuff, so it might be appropriate. Of course, NASA desperately needs ARM because it can’t afford anything else to do with an SLS.

        The rationale for at least the human space flight part of ARM is vacant. The science community largely doesn’t want it. Especially if the science community has to pay for it with money that could go to robotic missions to a multitude of different rocks that are chosen on the basis of science rather than orbital convenience. The human space flight community largely sees it as a door to nowhere. We send humans to this particular rock how many times? The planetary resources community largely considers it somewhat of a distraction, in that the NEO that is captured and visited almost certainly won’t provide lessons about the most likely very different NEO that is identified as a resource. The NEO threat mitigation community largely also sees it as a distraction, in that the funds would be vastly better used for detection and tracking, and the capture and redirection strategies for this tiny rock are irrelevant to the dangerous ones.

        I use the word “largely” because you can always find a few flacks who will salute crisply and do rear-kissing at HQ.

        Now, as noted, the SLS and Orion communities positively love it! Using such a rock to exercise a large SEP would be mildly interesting, though you’d think we could think of better things to exercise a large SEP on.

        But if SLS is really going to be built, we might as well cap the folly by doing ARM.

    • DCSCA

      With only 0.5% of the Federal Budget (and declining) it’s no wonder that NASA is caught up in the political battles of the Tea Party, the Republicans, and the Democrats.

      Been telling you that for months. It’s an easy target- high profile stand alone government agency with discretionary spending. and an easy target for the anti-government crowd. It has little do do with space technology and everything to do with political ideology. If Neosn would just come out and say that, he might get more noticeable ink on it.

      • MattW

        It’s an easy target because it’s a stand-alone government agency with discretionary spending AND a track record of spending billions of dollars on projects that go nowhere. I’m a huge supporter of manned space exploration and even I’m not convinced that NASA HSF is worth the cost.

  • Just for kicks, click here for the video of the September 14, 2011 press conference where Bill Nelson and Kay Bailey Hutchison announced the design of the Space Launch System.

    Can you imagine if, in 1962, a couple of Senators held a press conference to announce the design of the Saturn V, instead of James Webb or Wernher von Braun?

    Other politicians follow Nelson and Hutchison to the podium. They designed to give Charlie Bolden five minutes, but otherwise this was porkers only.

    • DCSCA

      Just for kicks,”…

      You want kicks, look up the videos of Nelson hamming it up in January, 1986 prepping for his STS-24 junket flight. There was zero reason beyond politics for Nelson or Garn to have flown.

  • Dark Blue Nine

    Upcoming TCAT effort will be another effort to right-size NASA’s institution at each center:

    http://spaceref.com/news/viewsr.html?pid=44909

    It will likely fail due to the topic of this thread.

  • Fred Willett

    For me it doesn’t matter that NASA’s budget is in decline.
    It doesn’t matter that the vast bulk of that budget is being diverted into a black hole that is SLS to the detriment of everything else that NASA ought to be doing.
    NASA is past it’s prime.
    There are still a few good things it is doing and there may be a few more good things in the future, but the days when NASA really mattered are long gone.
    NASA’s budget = $17B a year and falling.
    The space economy = $300B a year and growing.
    Watch this video from a recent AIAA conference.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r7A01wupFrc
    particularly the talk by the guy from Boeing. He says Space budgets at NASA and DoD are in long term decline. Boeing is looking to do things in a more commercial way.
    It is no coincidence Boeing are developing CST-100 in a non cost plus environment.
    Boeing can see which way the wind is blowing.
    And people like Nelson…?

    • Coastal Ron

      Fred Willett said:

      There are still a few good things it is doing and there may be a few more good things in the future, but the days when NASA really mattered are long gone.

      NASA was born out of the Cold War, and it’s signature achievement (i.e. Apollo) was really in support of the departments of State and Defense than it was for NASA’s benefit. The Shuttle was an echo of Apollo, and a pork program in it’s own right because of the desire to “keep the workforce in place”.

      The ISS was inspired by the end of the Cold War and the need to keep Russia’s technical talent from freelancing to our enemies, although it at least was also helping us prepare for “future HSF exploration”.

      But now the Cold War is far in our past, and no similar conflict has taken it’s place. So the likelihood that NASA will be needed as a proxy is unlikely.

      And now the U.S. Government is cutting budgets, not expanding them. So until someone is able to define what NASA’s role is in the 21st Century, and enough people in Congress agree that it is worth funding, NASA is unlikely to be given the responsibility for a large, sustained HSF exploration program.

      The only bright spot will be when the SLS is finally cancelled, because then NASA can be smarter about how it uses the limited amount of money it does get, and it will be able to better leverage the private sector. It’s just a matter of time…

      • Neil Shipley

        Well it’s a bit early to say when SLS will be cancelled and on what it’s budget would be spent on but I’d hazard a guess and say ‘jobs’. In other words, keep the pork flowing. I’m pessimistic and don’t expect NASA to be able to move direction as you seem to be saying. One can hope of course and I will certainly join you there.
        The only bright spot that I can see for HSF would appear to be CCiCap and SpaceX pushing on with their plans.
        I saw an article saying that they astronauts were doing training sessions in MPCV and that they recently powered it up. Lordy don’t it make you want to weep. This after how many years and billions of dollars and when is it going to do a human flight?
        Good grief, fly someone – sorry, couldn’t resist :)

        • Coastal Ron

          Neil Shipley said:

          Well it’s a bit early to say when SLS will be cancelled and on what it’s budget would be spent on but I’d hazard a guess and say ‘jobs’.

          Well that would be the case no matter what they spent the money on, although some things would have more jobs than others depending on the material content.

          And that’s the real problem here. The SLS program concentrates jobs in just a few states, so the politicians involved can manipulate NASA’s budget to protect them, regardless the merit of the final product.

          Who knows when the SLS will be cancelled, but once it’s gone, it’s unlikely to be replaced by another program of the same size and using the same NASA centers and contractor workforce. My hope is that with that “pork block” gone, NASA can get back to soliciting ideas and focusing on the ones that have merit, regardless whose pork it supports.

          Without an in-house HLV, plans that the various interest groups focus on will have to use existing rockets, and that will focus everyone on a more sustainable exploration architecture.

          First the SLS has to get cancelled, and no doubt it will likely take something that precipitates a review of the program. Likely the earliest point will be the upcoming budget review…

  • Mark R. Whittington

    Nelson is shocked, shocked that there is politics going on concerning NASA. Actually he is just concerned that the wrong kind of politics is shaping NASA. Politics will be around no matter what, however. Nelson is just lamenting his own lack of leadership ability to shape it to his liking, whatever that is.

    By the way, those people who want to scrag the SLS is just as bad. They too want their own politically motivated apace program.

    • Guest

      No Mark, they just want a reusable launch vehicle cheaper than SpaceX.

    • Coastal Ron

      Mark R. Whittington said:

      Politics will be around no matter what, however.

      Yep. As long as the taxpayer is footing the bill, then politicians will have their hands in how the money is spent.

      By the way, those people who want to scrag the SLS is just as bad. They too want their own politically motivated apace program.

      Actually no, that isn’t true. “Politically motivated” means that politicians are involved, and that is what lead us into this SLS debacle in the first place. NASA had no say about whether a significant amount of their budget should be consumed building an unaffordable HLV.

      The SLS is the epitome of “politically motivated” government spending, where the politicians tell NASA what rocket to build and how to build it. That should be pretty obvious Mark.

      If anything, what I want to replace the SLS with is free-market competition. Let the best ideas and approaches win, and that means starting with the initial plans. And with competition will come a consideration for cost, which is absent with the SLS.

      We can’t cancel the SLS fast enough.

  • Neil Shipley

    No not a politically motivated space program but a outward sustainable one. Not one person has presented a rational argument for SLS other than as a jobs program. If that’s what the U.S. taxpayer wants then so be it, but please let’s be honest about what NASA HSF is really there for rather than simply lying about it all the time.
    My bet is that SpaceX will fly not only FH but a family of met halos engines and vehicles before SLS even gets a test flight.

    • RockyMtnSpace

      “Not one person has presented a rational argument for HSF other than as a jobs program.”

      There, fixed that for you.

      • Neil Shipley

        Well no not really fixed. SLS is creating no new capability. The commercial players in HSF are creating, well recreating capability. There, fixed that for you!

  • vulture4

    A few market studies have found a “break point” at about $1M for a ride into LEO. If the cost can be brought below this point there is enough demand for space tourism and human-conducted research and satellite servicing to sustain a market. Although this would require vast reductions in cost it is certainly possible as this is still several times the cost of the fuel that provides the actual energy required to get into orbit.

    • Fred Willett

      And that is why SpaceX is much more relevant than anything NASA is doing.
      SpaceX is at least trying to bring down the cost to orbit by developing a truely reusable launch vehicle.
      NASA’s efforts with SLS are entirely aimed at keeping the cost of launch high and the use of space exclusive.
      It is exactly why NASA is making itself increasingly irrelevant.

      • Coastal Ron

        Fred Willett said:

        NASA’s efforts with SLS are entirely aimed at keeping the cost of launch high and the use of space exclusive.

        Let’s be clear here – NASA did not ask for the SLS, Congress created it themselves. Also, the point of the SLS at the time of it’s creation was to be a jobs program.

        Saying too that “NASA” is trying to keep the cost of launch high is not supported by any evidence I’m aware of, especially when “NASA” is at the same time enthusiastically supporting Commercial Cargo & Crew.

        I think you are over generalizing…

      • Fred Willett wrote:

        NASA’s efforts with SLS are entirely aimed at keeping the cost of launch high and the use of space exclusive.

        I’ve worked for a NASA contractor at KSC now for about 2 1/2 years, so I’ve had the opportunity to observe the culture up close.

        And this summer I had two opportunites to tour the SpaceX operation at LC-40, so I saw how they operate up close too.

        The experience was a total contrast in cultures.

        On the NASA side, the main objective among many employees seems to be to preserve what I think of as the “racket” — preserving obsolete jobs, being paid a lot to do it, and trying as much as possible to obstruct any change.

        On the SpaceX side, the main objective is the “vision.” They’re much younger, perhaps less experienced, but they have new ideas and are much more open to change. One told me he works 60-70 hours a week but he’s having the time of his life, because he’s on the wave of a new generation of spaceflight. Everyone is motivated, it’s much more relaxed, it’s not bureaucratic like the NASA side.

        Some of the folks on the NASA side disparage SpaceX, and I’ve heard many false allegations from people who simply don’t know what they’re talking about. I’ve yet to hear anyone at SpaceX say a single disparaging word about NASA. They just go about their business. NASA is a client, and they acknowledge NASA has been a big help for SpaceX to get off the ground (pun intended), but the SpaceX people seem more interested in focusing on the future than grousing about some upstart exposing their inefficiencies.

        The one word I would use to describe these NASA types is “hidebound.” With the SpaceX folks, I’ll go with a slightly obsolete term and call them “hip.”

        • Neil Shipley

          Interesting perspective. I’ve worked both government and industry and support your view about public sector workers. It’s unfortunate but the evidence is pretty compelling and the results or lack thereof speak for themselves. There are exceptions of course to every rule but with this one they’re few and far between.
          There’s no doubt in my mind that the NASA we have today is incapable of achieving any sort of space exploration beo. It starts at the top and that’s Congress and Bolden and neither the positions or Bolden strike me as capable. Bolden as well sounds like he has basically no idea about what it is his agency is supposed to be doing other than spend money on jobs and little else.
          Disappointing to find this situation after so many notable achievements.

      • DCSCA

        And that is why SpaceX is much more relevant than anything NASA is doing.
        dreams Fred.

        Except it’s not– and it is contunued attepts at establishing parody throguh false equivency statements like yours that continue ot flush it out. Space X, BTW, has flown nobody. NASA has– for over half a century.

  • Neil Shipley

    It used to be only hsf that was overpriced but now that’s extended to include their robotics missions hence why NASA is becoming increasingly irrelevant.

    • Hiram

      “It used to be only hsf that was overpriced but now that’s extended to include their robotics missions hence why NASA is becoming increasingly irrelevant.”

      Fair to say that a few science missions (e.g. JWST, MSL) broke the bank, but there are a hundred others that did science fairly economically. Can’t say that about human space flight. If NASA puts a person on a rocket, it’s going to empty pockets. For human space flight, yes, NASA is clearly headed toward irrelevance, as commercial firms are headed toward capabilities that only NASA now provides, and NASA has no clear congressional rationale for doing human space flight anyway. But who else is doing space science? NASA is hugely relevant for the science that it does and that is science that can’t be done any other way.

      Of course, as is well understood, the problems with NASA human space flight are eventually going to impact funding of NASA space science. Although the latter doesn’t functionally depend on the former, policy-wise, the latter won’t survive without the former.

      • Coastal Ron

        Hiram said:

        …and NASA has no clear congressional rationale for doing human space flight anyway.

        Agreed. We’ve been running on autopilot since Apollo, and while everyone assumes that we should be doing HSF, we don’t have any acknowledged goals or roadmaps. We’ve only gotten this far because of the level of wealth the U.S. enjoys, but I think we’re seeing the limits of that now.

        But who else is doing space science? NASA is hugely relevant for the science that it does and that is science that can’t be done any other way.

        Of course, that assumes we SHOULD be doing space science.

        I think there is probably more consensus on doing science than doing HSF, but it would be nice to renew the justification for both.

        • Hiram

          “Of course, that assumes we SHOULD be doing space science.”

          Space science is, in many respects, just terrestrial science that can’t be accomplished with the limited conditions we have on Earth. That is, it’s not just about learning about space, but it uses space to learn about the world. That being the case, I guess by the same token, we should look at NSF, DoE, and NIH science in the same way, which is also aimed at learning about the world.

          But human spaceflight relates to those agencies as well. NIH could send brave explorers into the jungle to come down with new diseases, DoE could send shielded humans into a reactor to, er, see what it’s like in there, and NSF could drop humans into a tesseract to “experience” it for mankind and inspire mathematicians. Ah, the glory.

          • Coastal Ron

            Hiram said:

            Space science is, in many respects, just terrestrial science that can’t be accomplished with the limited conditions we have on Earth.

            It probably goes both ways. We build and launch satellites to tell us what’s happening on Earth, and we build terrestrial sensors to tell us what’s happening beyond Earth.

            For the stuff that affects Earth, the ROI is more understandable (i.e. weather, crops, mining, etc.), but what is the ROI in understanding the origins of the universe?

            I do think the U.S. should fund pure science, but the beyond Earth science is certainly tied to the whole “why are we doing this” question.

            But human spaceflight relates to those agencies as well.

            :-)

            • Hiram

              “For the stuff that affects Earth, the ROI is more understandable (i.e. weather, crops, mining, etc.), but what is the ROI in understanding the origins of the universe?”

              Well, the understanding of nuclear fusion is of some great relevance to power (generation for the grid and explosive release) on the Earth, But we first learned about it by looking at stars and understanding their origin and evolution. The understanding of general relativity is of profound relevance for navigation on the Earth (your GPS wouldn’t come close to working without it), but we first detected its effects by looking in space, and we see it’s strongest effects in the nuclei of galaxies far away. Our understanding of our own atmosphere and climate is well exercised by models of that on other planets. We’re talking about doing physics in laboratory environments that simply don’t exist on the Earth. So the ROI for space science isn’t hard to come up with. It’s very different than the naive presumption that space science should be just learning about places we might want to go.

              That’s why U.S. physics doesn’t much need Peruvian or Turkish physics. We can pretty much do here what we’d be able to do in labs in Peru and Turkey. Now, Antarctic physics (e.g. aeronomy and astronomy) is more enabling, because Antarctica offers us different conditions than we could have here.

              If your ROI metric is storm detection, or building bulldozers or tractors, then yes, space science isn’t that relevant. One doesn’t need a laboratory in space to take pictures of clouds or finesse an internal combustion engine. But you’d be wise to think more broadly.

              I think to get back on topic, it’s precisely ROI that pertains to the politics of space. Because if you as a legislator don’t bring home the bacon, whether jobs or some more enabling capability, you’re not going to get reelected.

              Of course, if you want to say that space science is all about curiosity, you can do that, but it’s curiosity with a motive that goes well beyond intellectual satisfaction. I guess that’s the problem with human spaceflight. It’s pretty cool, but what’s the motive that goes beyond intellectual satisfaction?

              • common sense

                ” I guess that’s the problem with human spaceflight. It’s pretty cool, but what’s the motive that goes beyond intellectual satisfaction?”

                Survival of the species. But no one will ever dare say it.

                One might argue though that our species as we know it will change in the not so distant future into some form of “synthetic” life form connected to and represented with computers and genetically modified/created organisms. Then HSF might become the test bed of this “new” species. The Immortals?

                How about that for HSF?

              • Coastal Ron

                Hiram said:

                Well, the understanding of nuclear fusion is of some great relevance to power (generation for the grid and explosive release) on the Earth, But we first learned about it by looking at stars and understanding their origin and evolution.

                I don’t think you’re trying to say that we are funding the Hubble and JWST so we can figure out how to do nuclear fusion here on Earth, are you? Sure, maybe we get some information from peering out into space that can be used here on Earth, but I don’t think that is the whole rationale for why we do it.

                But again, I’m all for spending on pure science, but it would be nice to tie our efforts in space into a cohesive justification so that we use that as a guide for our spending and determining how we’re doing. And I think that is already sort of happening with the National Science Foundation, right? We just need something like that for Human SpaceFlight (HSF).

                Because if you as a legislator don’t bring home the bacon, whether jobs or some more enabling capability, you’re not going to get reelected.

                For most of our politicians that’s true. Some do keep an eye out for the national good, but likely not enough.

                …but it’s curiosity with a motive that goes well beyond intellectual satisfaction.

                Which is what? And is it an explicit goal, or an implicit one?

              • Coastal Ron

                common sense said:

                Survival of the species. But no one will ever dare say it.

                For those that really think about it, that might be true. Not many people think about it though.

                Then HSF might become the test bed of this “new” species. The Immortals?

                How about that for HSF?

                If they don’t pay taxes and reside in defined political boundaries, then it would be hard to see why any politician would want to spend much money on them.

              • Hiram

                “Survival of the species. But no one will ever dare say it.”

                That’s a possible motive. Let’s think about why no one dares to say it. Firstly our Congress has no responsibility for species survival, or survival of our culture, though they probably have some responsibility for survival of our nation. Sending colonists to another world doesn’t do that. They’ll eventually form their own nation. Every time. You won’t preserve the United States on Mars.

                That being the case, what’s the best way to ensure species survival? If war consumes the Earth, it’s hard to believe that a space colony would be insulated from those armaments. Someone who knows how to destroy the Earth can probably do a decent job of destroying a space colony.

                Disease? Well,the space colony would have to be really well isolated from Earth to prevent contamination. Not sure if that’s feasible.

                Asteroid impact? Eh. Best way to ensure survival from that threat is to track and mitigate impacts. No question about that. We have vastly more skills to do that than to transplant humanity.

                But a small colony of humans on another world isn’t going to preserve the species. The loss of genetic variability will be enormous, and the species that is transplanted will probably start to diverge. So I think the idea that colonizing other worlds will preserve the species may be simplistic. Surely someone has carefully considered the genetic diversity that would be required to do it right?

                As to synthetic life forms, I’ll wait until it happens.

              • Hiram

                “I don’t think you’re trying to say that we are funding the Hubble and JWST so we can figure out how to do nuclear fusion here on Earth, are you?”

                No, we already know how to do that stuff, thanks to space science discovery. Nor am I trying to say that Hubble and JWST will teach us about internal combustion engines. But, for example, JWST will tell us a lot about dark energy and, lemme tell you, they who control and or understand dark energy will be in pretty fine shape.

                I suppose one has to presume that scientific discovery will serendipitously lead to wonderful things we can’t anticipate. That’s been the history of it. Of course, I guess human space flight could be looked at that was as well, but it’s more of a reach, I think.

              • common sense

                Hiram,

                It seems that you equate HSF with NASA, hence Congress. This is no longer. This is the only way forward for HSF and the train already left the station. I am not talking space colony but you have to start somewhere. I dare say the ISS is an embryonic such space colony and we are learning how to live in space right now. Of course the ISS was brought to you by Congress… For reasons that have nothing to do with survival, yet…

                As far as synthetic goes see this http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Brain_Project or this http://neuroblog.stanford.edu/?p=2751 I don’t think we are done but just as with the colony we have to start somewhere.

                Coastal Ron,

                I am not sure I understand your argument vis a vis the Immortals. You mean Congress pays for it? If so, see above. You think Congress does not want to be Immortal?

                HSF only is a small part of making our species immortal. There is a lot more and more sophisticated things going on.Think about this. Unless there is a breakthrough in physics, e.g. transportation via wormholes or space warp, then the only vessel that will visit Alpha Centauri or any one of Keppler’s new planets will be some sort of a synthetic life form.

              • Hiram

                “It seems that you equate HSF with NASA, hence Congress. This is no longer.”

                I completely agree, and I regret if something I wrote suggested otherwise. Certainly, if Elon wants to start a colony on Mars, he’s welcome to do so, so that he can preserve whatever he wants to preserve without asking Congress. But a lot of the discussion is about what NASA should be doing, because that’s what most of us are paying for. I’m not handing over any of my money to Elon, except for what Congress tells him he should get from me.

                My main point was that if you want to preserve a species, it deserves some thought exactly what it takes to really do that. It remains to be seen, if species preservation is the goal, if space colonies are the best way to do that. For rampant disease or poisoning of the environment, one could imagine that a large covered habitat, with filtered air, would be cheaper than sending a rich gene-pool’s worth of people to Mars. In fact, once on Mars, those people there would need a large HVAC system that would probably be as complex. So saying “we have to start somewhere” is only true if you’re sure that’s what you need to start. I’m not so sure.

              • common sense

                Yep. I think we agree overall here again. As far as NASA is concerned it would not hurt to amend the Space Act to reflect the realities of our Century rather than those of 55 years ago.

                Unfortunately, I suspect that if some were to really look in detail at the Space Act it would spell a lot of trouble for NASA… Status quo is helpful for short term health of the organization. But as we can see the danger of obsolescence is now clearly showing. See for example all the stupidity being thrown about China and their military efforts on the Moon or elsewhere that make no sense whatsoever while people should be more concerned with China or anyone else purchasing, legally, US assets… But it’s a different story.

                To me, the best course of action would be to even simply really adhere to the Space Act, which does not involve HSF whatsoever as a mission. However HSF might be part of NASA’s mission(s) and could be performed via private companies providing necessary services.

                That, I believe, would remove all about inspiration, exploration, obsolete soft-power and all the ridiculous language that actually makes NASA’s mission ever so difficult.

                Finally if someone, private, thinks it’s better to send humans on a one way trip to Mars and the participants all agree then they should just do as they please within the limitation of liability blablabla… If someone wants to sell tickets to suborbital trips then great. And so on and so forth.

              • Coastal Ron

                common sense said:

                Unfortunately, I suspect that if some were to really look in detail at the Space Act it would spell a lot of trouble for NASA…

                Huh? If anything, NASA would be in a lot better shape if everyone followed The National Aeronautics and Space Act (Pub. L. No. 111–314
                124 Stat. 3328 – Dec. 18, 2010). Maybe it’s not perfect, and maybe it does need to be updated, but it’s not too bad.

                Certainly Congress did not take it into consideration when they created the SLS program, nor do they seem to be cognizant of Sec. 20102. (c):

                Commercial Use of Space.–Congress declares that the general welfare of the United States requires that the Administration seek and encourage, to the maximum extent possible, the fullest commercial use of space.

                And depending on how much stock you put into such things, that section on the commercial use of space is before the section that gets into the science and HSF stuff.

                I don’t think anyone in Congress feels that they are bound by this act, but they also don’t feel any need to replace it with something else. That’s part of the waste that Congress creates.

    • DCSCA

      “It used to be only hsf that was overpriced but now that’s extended to include their robotics missions hence why NASA is becoming increasingly irrelevant.”

      Inaccurate. Start with revisiting the history of the Voyager missions- planned, cancelled due to cost– revived, reworked, etc.,.. it’s nothing new to the planetary science people. What is new is the creeping reality of getting less bang for the buck– witness Curiosity. The $2.6 billion goldplated gadget is 15 months into its stated 24 month mission and has failed to come any where close to delivering a ROI to justify that level of expense for a throwaway probe.

      • Hiram

        “The $2.6 billion goldplated gadget … has failed to come any where close to delivering a ROI to justify that level of expense for a throwaway probe.”

        Sez DCSCA, who evidently didn’t get the ROI that others did. Most everyone else believes otherwise. But thanks for your thoughts.

        • DCSCA

          Most everyone else believes otherwise. But thanks for your thoughts. quips Hiram.

          Hmmmm. Except you’re not one of them, per your own words posted earlirt on this thread:

          “Fair to say that a few science missions (e.g. JWST, MSL) broke the bank…” -Hiram. But thanks for your thoughts reaffirming my position.

          • Hiram

            No, let’s not twist words. What you believe is that MSL did not supply return on investment. Most everyone else thinks it did deliver a good ROI. I do. Apollo broke the bank as well, but it delivered a well appreciated ROI. I certainly think it did. I don’t think anyone regrets that Apollo broke the bank. (And boy did it break the bank!) You can break the bank and end up with a pretty fantastic ROI. But one would rather not break the bank to do that.

        • Neil Shipley

          I personally would rather have seen $2.6billion spent not on another Mars robotic mission but on advancing the technology that would assist in a human Mars mission. We probably know enough about Mars and en-route space environment to start serious design, test and build. Not to mention in-space craft and I’m not referring to that waste of money that MPCV is.

          • Hiram

            “I personally would rather have seen $2.6billion spent not on another Mars robotic mission but on advancing the technology that would assist in a human Mars mission.”

            I personally would rather have seen $700M/year expended on space technology which would have done just that, as proposed by the President, but which Congress pared mercilessly. Remember too that a large piece of the $2.6M budget for MSL was because it didn’t make it’s launch window, and had to be postponed two years. Various reasons for that, but a big one was false economies imposed on the mission by Congress, and the resultant marching armies. The peak $225M/yr expended on MSL won’t get your Mars technology that far.

            I personally would also like to see some solid rationale for why we need to be flinging humans to Mars in the first place. Mars can do very well without human footprints, and we could do fine without photos of astronauts waving at the camera with red dust on their helmets.

            • Neil Shipley

              Species survival. Not an Apollo type mission but a base.

              • Hiram

                Species survival probably takes a lot more than a “base”. A species will die out pretty fast if the genetic diversity is low, or may actually eventually turn into something quite different. So for a few generations with a small population, you might preserve some semblance of a species. But it gets harder after that, I believe.

                I would very much like to see some analysis of what population it takes to REALLY preserve a species. There must be a lot of work on that by conservation biologists. I suspect that eight isn’t enough. I seem to remember that, for many species, numbers of a thousand or so translate into only 90% survival odds. There is a “50/500″ rule that says that at least 50 souls are needed to avoid serious short-term inbreeding. 500 souls are needed for longer term survival. So it may be very naive to presume that putting even a small town on Mars is any kind of insurance for our species. Let’s be careful here.

  • Egad

    FWIW, Chairman Smith has responded to the Houston Chronicle article:

    http://www.chron.com/opinion/letters/article/Friday-letters-NASA-funding-Wharton-4944518.php

    [Letter to Houston Chronicle]
    October 31, 2013

    NASA funding

    A recent article on NASA’s funding (“Politics threatens NASA fate,” Page A1, Sunday) mistakenly said that I wanted to cut that agency’s budget. Actually, the NASA reauthorization bill approved by the Science, Space, and Technology Committee, which I chair, continues the current level of funding. My preference would be to increase NASA’s budget. But under the Budget Control Act, which the president supported and signed, Congress must abide by certain funding levels. To propose increased levels is unrealistic and contrary to the spirit of the law.

    Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chairman, House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.

  • Coastal Ron

    Probably the best way to get politics “out of space” is to remove politicians from any detailed decisions.

    Our form of government requires our politicians to approve budgets, and to do oversight. That is good. But a good deal of the problem today is that politicians also make decisions based on what is in the best interests of their constituents, which may not be in the best interests of fiscal sanity or technical need.

    We need to reduce the amount of involvement politicians have in the details of what we’re doing in space. Now we still lack some sort of overall consensus on what we really are supposed to be doing in space, but once that’s worked out, a long range planning group should be formed to identify the choices the politicians can pick based on the available budget and overall goals.

    I think I’ve heard we used to have something like that for NASA in the past, and if NASA is ever to regain some sense of relevance in the future, I think that’s the only way to remove as much of the political influence as possible. We can’t remove it all, but it needs to be less than what NASA experiences today.

    My $0.02

  • Alan Ladwig

    Plenty of good commentary above on Nelson’s comments and his hypocrisy specifically and politics of space in general. However, it is hard to believe the Chronicle is still bitching that it was “President Barack Obama’s decision to bypass Johnson Space Center as the location for one of the retired space shuttles.” This has been proven to be a false statement more than once. The White House can be faulted for many things, but being involved in the shuttle placement decision is not one of them. Clearly, the selection committee was not as impressed with the proposal from Space Center Houston as they were with the entries from the successful institutions that are now displaying the orbiters for millions of visitors. The Chronicle ought to quit spreading information that they know isn’t true.

    • Coastal Ron

      Alan Ladwig said:

      Clearly, the selection committee was not as impressed with the proposal from Space Center Houston as they were with the entries from the successful institutions that are now displaying the orbiters for millions of visitors.

      Even if the Houston bid had been the equal of the ones from New York or Los Angeles – which it clearly wasn’t – locating the remaining orbiters in the #1 and #2 most popular U.S. tourist destinations (and #5 & 20 worldwide) means that far more people will be able to experience them than if they had been stuck in some outdoor shed in Houston (not even in the Top Ten list of most visited U.S. cities).

      Texas didn’t do a good job bidding for an orbiter, and they just need to accept that and move on.

    • The IG report indicated that much of the political interference came from Houston, ironically enough.

      • For those who haven’t read it, click here to read the Inspector General report on the selection process for the orbiters’ final homes.

        To quote from the summary:

        We found no evidence that the Team’s recommendation or the Administrator’s decision were tainted by political influence or any other improper consideration. While the Administrator was subject to a great deal of pressure from members of Congress and other interested parties, we found no evidence that this pressure had any influence on the Administrator’s ultimate decision on where to place the Orbiters. Moreover, we found no attempt by White House officials to direct or influence Bolden’s decision making. We also found that NASA’s process was consistent with applicable Federal law.

        The report indicates that most of the political pressure came from the Congressional delegations in Texas and Ohio.

    • Justin Kugler

      Unfortunately, there is a lot of cognitive dissonance here in Houston about this. Folks from JSC believed that we should have had an Orbiter and nothing will convince them otherwise, not even when you show them how the only way SCH would have won an Orbiter was if NASA had prioritized proximity to a NASA center with spaceflight heritage over all else.

      • I read back through my blog posts during that time frame and was reminded of some of the loopy claims made by Houstonians and their elected officials, e.g. they were going to get Congress to pass a law to seize Enterprise from New York and give it to Houston.

        It also reminded me of the nasty conversation I had with a Houstonian who came to KSC and claimed there was some vast conspiracy afoot to keep Houston from raising the money to pay for an orbiter. Everyone is to blame for their faults but themselves.

    • DCSCA

      However, it is hard to believe the Chronicle is still bitching that it was “President Barack Obama’s decision to bypass Johnson Space Center as the location for one of the retired space shuttles.” notes Alan.

      Not really. The bulk of the folks in and around the area, management and support personnel— even the folks who run the bars and burger Kings- have three decades of their lives and the bulk of their careers tied to shuttle ops. Once they retire and a fresh administration moves it- it’ll fade into history.

  • John Malkin

    Coastal Ron
    November 4, 2013 at 1:17 pm • Reply
    Probably the best way to get politics “out of space” is to remove politicians from any detailed decisions.
    Our form of government requires our politicians to approve budgets, and to do oversight. That is good. But a good deal of the problem today is that politicians also make decisions based on what is in the best interests of their constituents, which may not be in the best interests of fiscal sanity or technical need.

    Who are the constituents? I feel today that very few control a majority of the swing via political contributions from corporations and organizations. NASA has been used as a political pawn since its inception. Was SLS born out of the local individual constituents crying out for jobs? I was trying to find a reference or video of the impromptu press conference where a deal was reached for NASA to continue work on SLS and stop saying it wasn’t sustainable. Who was in the room?

    Some Politicians only care about their campaign contributors.

    • Coastal Ron

      John Malkin said:

      Was SLS born out of the local individual constituents crying out for jobs?

      The SLS was born out of the cancellation of the Constellation program, and the cancellation was going to cause some significant of layoffs. So from that standpoint, the politicians were anticipating feedback from their constituents, and since Nelson (D-FL), Shelby (R-AL) and Hutchison (R-TX) were in a position to do something on the NASA committee, they did – they created the SLS.

      But the real question is whether the NATION is better off with the SLS, not just Florida, Alabama and Texas, right? For whatever reason, the political leadership let these three states dictate what NASA was going to do based on THEIR needs, not the NATIONS.

      And that’s legal. And it’s pretty common for non-NASA issues too, so that’s why Nelson is being so hypocritical here.

  • Ed Minchau

    NASA is a branch of the US government and is therefore by definition a political entity, just as any other government agency from the IRS to the Air Force is a political entity. The only way to get politics out of NASA is to remove it from the government altogether: divide it up and privatize it.

    • Neil Shipley

      My reading of the tea leaves is that hsf is heading down that road for several reasons.

      Firstly, the timely intervention of Elon Musk in the form of SpaceX and a disruptive industrial force if ever there was one, and secondly, I think that this has provided impetus in the form of potential lower costs to orbit, for other private organisations to believe that they can do things in space as well without government or at least with minimal government assistance in the form of NASA.

      This leads some of us to hope that fruit will be born out of these fledgling enterprises and NASA will wither back to it’s origins.

    • Neil Shipley

      Oh I should also add that NASA hsf is pretty much crippled after tying itself to SLS and MPCV. No money to do anything else except pretty powerpoints.

    • DCSCA

      The only way to get politics out of NASA is to remove it from the government altogether: divide it up and privatize it.

      This makes no sense. Then it wouldn’t be the National aeronautics and Space Administration, would it. And as we all know, ‘privatizing’ placed profit as the goal, which is among the major obstacles to commercial HSF ops. There’s nio maekt for it. That’s why governments do it. It’s a hard lesson for the children indoctrinated in the Reagan era- Surpruise: government is NOT a business. Never was. Never will be.

      • Hiram

        I agree with this. The government does things that private businesses won’t. Those things can be in the long-term interest of the nation, which private businesses don’t care squat about. There is value in a government-funded space agency, but you’re not going to see that value on your books this year or next. Our government is, however, not optimal for achieving far-reaching projects, taking decades to implement. In one respect, with regard to space, that was the wisdom in the flexible path approach. That incremental approach has our government biting off small pieces of the problem at any one time. To some extent, that’s what we’re doing right now with ISS. Should political stupidity demand it, we can stop biting for a while. Unless faced with a desperate need to assert national superiority with massive federal funding, the likes of the Apollo program simply won’t happen again in our government.

        So the issue shouldn’t be getting politics out of space, but rather how to organize our space efforts to make them more resilient to politics.

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