Congress, NASA

Congressman wants to know if NASA has too much infrastructure

While NASA is working to hand over many of the facilities it no longer needs at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) after the retirement of the Space Shuttle two years ago, one member of Congress wants to know if NASA should be divesting those assets even faster. The Orlando Sentinel reported late Wednesday that Rep. John Mica (R-FL) plans to hold a hearing early next year on what else NASA can do to rid itself of facilities it no longer needs. “We have evolved the space program, but we haven’t evolved the property and assets,” Mica told the Sentinel.

NASA is working to find new users for shuttle-related infrastructure at KSC that it no longer needs. Two years ago, NASA and Space Florida signed a deal with Boeing to give the company access to one of the three Orbiter Processing Facilities, which Boeing plans to use to assemble CST-100 commercial crew spacecraft, should the company continue in NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. In late June, NASA announced it was entering negotiations with Space Florida to turn over maintenance and operations of the Shuttle Landing Facility to the state agency. And, most controversially, NASA is looking to lease Launch Complex 39A to a commercial entity, attracting the attention of both Blue Origin and SpaceX, with the two companies and their supporters sparring in the media and even in a Congressional hearing.

Mica chairs the Government Operations subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, giving him, he believes, the ability to study an agency that normally falls under the jurisdiction of the House Science Committee. It’s unclear if the hearing will focus only on KSC or include other NASA centers that may have excess infrastructure, although the Sentinel article reports Mica is considering holding the hearing not in Washington but on the Space Coast in February—a good time to get away from wintry Washington, at least.

39 comments to Congressman wants to know if NASA has too much infrastructure

  • Coastal Ron

    Well the answer is “Yes” of course. Just look at the Johnson Space Center with it’s 100 buildings, and it’s pretty obvious in this day and age that we don’t need that many buildings to handle the level of human spaceflight training, research and flight control we have going on.

    But how do you downsize a campus that big? You still will need part of it for ongoing operations, but not all of it.

    I hope they consider razing unneeded buildings as a start, since at least then it removes maintenance costs going forward. That would even be a short-term stimulus to the local economy, so you might be able to get local political buy-in.

    And razing buildings might be the most we can expect for now, since it’s very doubtful Congress is going to go after closing entire Field Centers. Gotta start somewhere…

  • Vladislaw

    What would a member of congress want in exchange for the loss of a NASA center? A new fighter wing? A nuclear sub base? I can’t imagine any state delegation giving up a pork center for the good of the country or the agency.

  • amightywind

    Glad the GOP is addressing reality and attempting to reform. NASA operates an outrageous number of facilities. Goddard, Glenn, and Langley top my list for the guillotine.

  • Guesr

    NASA definitely has too much infrastructure, and too many employees for that matter. Dont get me wrong, I believe it’s important for the government to maintain in-house capabilities, engineers, managers, facilities, etc., but the focus should be on reserarch and development, advancing technologies, and flying first of a kind systems and payloads. The old NACA is a good model. Also, some of the DoD research labs are good models. NASA needs to shed a lot of the overhead, facilities, and people and refocus on mission. It should not be a jobs program…that’s a dead end.

    But how to get there? Isn’t it politically impossible to close a center? Maybe. But Ive heard some people in DC suggest that there should be a Federal BRAC (base realignment and closure) that would inlude NASA, DoE labs/centers, Dept of Commerce (NOAA, NIST, etc.). Such a BRAC would spread the pain wide enough that Congress would be more inclined to support it. Even if Congress rejects it for the first few times it was proposed, it would eventually be approved in some form becuase the budget landscape will probably drive it in that direction. I think it would be a sign of leadership if the FY15 budget included a Federal BRAC.

    Also, NASA should implement targeted RIFs. The reductions in personnel would be targeted to specific skill/job categories that are not needed, not everyone in the agency. Some may suggest offering buyouts instead, but buyouts tend to be taken by people witn stronger, more marketable skills, allowing them to get the buyout and get another job. Buyouts are a double whanmy. You lose good people and you have to pay them to leave. RIFs may be harsher and more difficult to pull the trigger on, but are much more effective in reshaping an agency if targeted properly.

    How much of NASA’s resources are tied up in unnecessary bureaucracy? Impossible to know precisely, but based on discussions with people inside NASA, it’s huge. There needs to be more focus on missions, and a major rollback of the hidebound infrastructure accumulated over the decades.

    NASA Reform is needed now.

  • guest

    I don’t know how anyone, most of all NASA or a Congressman, can decide how much infrastructure NASA needs, or personnel, or budget. This is especially true in some specific areas, such as human space flight.
    Coastal Ron said that NASA and JSC do not require the infrastructure they have to support human spaceflight training, research and flight control. This is a reasonable statement if the prime functions are things like human space operations. JSC started as the Manned Spacecraft Center and at one time most of the organization was geared to design manned spacecraft. They don’t seem to do a lot of that, and they also do not seem to be doing the design or development of systems to support manned spacecraft. They went awry the last 3+ decades trying to become a manned space system operator-no need to understand design or development. Were not doing that much operating now.

    Guesr said that reductions in personnel would be targeted to specific skill/job categories that are not needed. Unfortunately if there is a reason to continue to develop manned spacecraft, then most of your top people by rank have no appropriate technical skills and experience since almost all came out of operations. So how would you like to RIF the people who now are in jobs they do not know how to perform? By their current positions? by their tenure? maybe you could test them to see what they know?

    NASA has not figured out what it wants to be now that it has grown up. Until they decide that everybody is shooting in the dark. No one even knows what skills would be required.

    • Hiram

      “I don’t know how anyone, most of all NASA or a Congressman, can decide how much infrastructure NASA needs, or personnel, or budget.”

      Which is why a real in-depth assessment is probably called for. But hearings are mostly political posturing, and are certainly not the way to do that in-depth assessment. I guess that at best such a hearing might raise the prospect that an in-depth assessment is probably called for.

      “NASA has not figured out what it wants to be now that it has grown up. Until they decide that everybody is shooting in the dark.”

      Exactly right. At least with regard to human space flight, until NASA decides what it really and truly wants to do, with a roadmap that gets one from the near term to the far term, assessment of infrastructure is pretty much a shot in the dark. So maybe, at best, such a hearing will indirectly urge such planning to happen — planning which the Science committee seems unable to wrap their arms around.

      • Call Me Ishmael

        At least with regard to human space flight, until NASA decides what it really and truly wants to do, … assessment of infrastructure is pretty much a shot in the dark.

        I’m afraid asking NASA what it wants to do won’t help either. The answer will inevitably be “Everything! And cost be damned!”

        • Coastal Ron

          Call Me Ishmael said:

          I’m afraid asking NASA what it wants to do won’t help either. The answer will inevitably be “Everything! And cost be damned!”

          I agree.

          Ideally a set of options should be developed, with each having a set of short-term and long-term objectives. NASA should then be used to help evaluate and cost out each option, and then they should be presented to “the powers that be” to decide which, if any, will be funded.

          As to who should develop the proposed plans, my choice would be through an open competition that teams up academia with the private sector. I wouldn’t want service providers to be exclusive though, since things like launch providers should be assumed to be available to all.

          My $0.02

          • Hiram

            “Ideally a set of options should be developed, with each having a set of short-term and long-term objectives.”

            The fallacy here is that only NASA knows which options are technically credible, and NASA is heavily steeped in the humans-go-to-space mode. That’s just how NASA employees are built. That means that every option will be predicated on launching humans to some destination. Even the science programs which, after all, in the minds of many people, are largely done so someday we can launch humans to those destinations! Early universe? No sweat. We just need a REALLY big rocket.

            But the basic question is more fundamental. What is the role of humans in space, and what national purposes can they serve there? Are there other ways those purposes can be served? NASA won’t bite on that at all. They won’t touch it. I have no bias about human spaceflight. I think it’s exciting, fun, and stimulating. But someone has to get down to the brass tacks of establishing what the real value of human spaceflight is to the nation. Does excitement, fun, and stimulation constitute that value? Once that question is answered by consensus, then one can start coming up with options that aren’t stuck with the premise that, at root, it’s all about launching humans, but about what needs to be accomplished.

            This gets back to the purpose of NASA. The Space Act, of course, isn’t bound by that humans-go-to-space premise. But really and truly, the Space Act hardly guides NASA these days. The Space Act is a reason for NASA’s being. That reason being at hand, the agency is free to do lots of other stuff.

  • Guesr

    Guest, I agree that NASA’s human space program hasn’t figure out what it wants to be, but it’s also not entirely NASA’s call. It’s a national policy call, and there hasn’t been a willingness to put the resources behind supposed concensus policy statements, such as VSE to name one in a series of pronouncements over the last umpteen years. Even then, concensus was suspiciously shallow and ephemeral. The window of opportunity following Columbia with a favorable budget environment and the attention and support of the political echelon has passed. NASA blew it chance (even though it was given multiple turns at bat).

    As for Guest’s observation that how would NASA, Congress or anyone know how much infrastrucutre, personnel, or budget is needed, I think it depends on how precisely this needs to be known to make good decisions. Without perfect information, some poor decisions are likely, but enough is known, imo, to make some needed reforms, downsizing, etc.

    On RIFs, agencies have done these in the past, the process is pretty-well defined. People dread RIFs, for good reason, but they’re effective asa tool to strengthen organizations. If NASA/White House/Congress don’t have the stomach to make such tough decisions, they shouldn’t complain when they see it going down the tubes.

    • Coastal Ron

      Guesr said:

      NASA blew it chance (even though it was given multiple turns at bat).

      I think it’s easy to anthropomorphize massive organizations like NASA, and treat them like they are individuals that can operate with independence. But that is not the situation here.

      In regards to the VSE, President Bush announced it, and more than two Bush appointed NASA administrators worked on it, with Michael Griffin influencing it the most.

      So was the failure of the VSE inspired Constellation program “NASA’s” fault? Being that NASA Administrator Michael Griffin was a presidential appointee, not a long term NASA employee, and that NASA personnel don’t control the direction of NASA itself, I’d say that is was not NASA’s fault for the failure of the Constellation program – it was the fault of the politicians overseeing NASA.

      Now that’s not to say that NASA employees don’t make mistakes. The situation with the JWST is pretty much all NASA management related, from their initial low-ball program estimates to the lack of ability to manage the program properly by themselves.

      But the current situation with NASA’s budget and lack of cohesive direction is pretty much the fault of the politicians that control NASA, and not the fault of NASA employees. They can only work with what is given them.

      • Hiram

        “But the current situation with NASA’s budget and lack of cohesive direction is pretty much the fault of the politicians that control NASA, and not the fault of NASA employees. They can only work with what is given them.”

        These are good points, and worth taking to heart. NASA’s goals are determined by the Administration, with the assent of Congress. But NASA is asked by Administration managers (OMB, OSTP) to offer credible options (missions, etc.) that can be used to build overlying policy. Once the Administration buys into those options, it signs off on them for Congressional discussion (and funding!) in a policy-tweaked statement. That’s the NASA budget proposal. Let’s not forget. While largely drafted by NASA, that proposal comes from the OMB and reflects consistency with Administration priorities. Unfortunately, as a proposal for one year of activity, that statement doesn’t focus on long-term goals.

        That was one of the remarkable aspects of the Vision for Space Exploration. That was a long-term planning statement, honchoed by the Administration (with the support of NASA, of course), that really expressed long term goals. It has been noted by many observers that this is where China may have a leg up on us. Politically, and even culturally, authoritarian China is driven by long-range goals that focus on national need. Their plans aren’t biannually driven by a democratic electorate.

        But NASA, which is largely an organization of engineers, technologists, and scientists (and managers thereof), has been routinely asked by successive administrations to offer suggestions about policy. NASA isn’t good at that. The agency doesn’t have the purview, expertise, nor political awareness to assess national needs and cultural zeitgeist for human space flight. I suppose the same could be said about science, though NASA has very well established mechanisms to assess national needs for that.

        The fact that NASA hasn’t figured out how to get humans to Mars is certainly NASA’s problem. But it’s ultimately the Administration and Congress’ problem that we haven’t figured out WHY we should send humans to Mars. That’s implementation of policy versus policy development. From a leadership perspective, policy is the job of the Administration, though Congress won’t hesitate to step in if it doesn’t sense that leadership.

        • Coastal Ron

          Hiram said:

          The agency [NASA] doesn’t have the purview, expertise, nor political awareness to assess national needs and cultural zeitgeist for human space flight.

          Agreed.

          From a leadership perspective, policy is the job of the Administration, though Congress won’t hesitate to step in if it doesn’t sense that leadership.

          Policy may be the job of the Administration, but all policies that require money are beholden to Congress to fund what they are supposed to do. So what Congress decides to fund is in fact policy making by Congress.

          A good example of that is the SLS program, where the Administrations policy was to develop technologies for future heavy lift, and Congress changed the policy to be “heavy lift now using specific existing & and already funded technologies”. The two policies were not the same, and the fallout of each are far different. Score one for Congress on that one.

          • Hiram

            “A good example of that is the SLS program, where the Administrations policy was to develop technologies for future heavy lift, and Congress changed the policy to be ‘heavy lift now using specific existing & and already funded technologies’.”

            Yep, which is why I gave that congressional caveat. In fact, I was thinking about SLS, as were you. SLS (Senate Launch System) is where Congress decided that the Administration wasn’t exercising policy leadership (as defined there as big honking launchers that would do homage to the Saturn V). Big honking technology developments don’t measure up to big honking rockets, in their view of space leadership. In practice, more generally, I guess Congress defines presidential leadership as leading the country in doing what Congress wants to do. In the eyes of Congress, that’s protection, in that the Administration can be blamed for any problems that arise.

      • Vladislaw

        When I read this in the VSE:

        “In the days of the Apollo program, human exploration
        systems employed expendable, single-use vehicles requiring large ground crews and careful monitoring. For future, sustainable exploration programs, NASA requires cost-effective vehicles that may be reused, have systems that could be applied to more than one destination, and are highly reliable and need only small ground crews. NASA plans to invest in a number of new approaches to exploration, such as robotic networks, modular systems, pre-positioned propellants, advanced power and propulsion, and in-space assembly, that could enable these kinds of vehicles.”

        I thought finally, they are going to close down the shuttle, downsize the workforce, commercialize cargo and crew and stay out of the launch business. When the usual suspects pushed back … that was the end of the VSE. I blame the porkonauts in congress.

  • Guesr

    Coastal Ron, you are right that there’s plenty of blame to go around, and I think at the core is a lack of clear rationale for human space, making it hard to focus and sustain. It may be that human space really isnt good for all that much, at least for the foresseable future.

    Having said that, I focus on NASA blowing it because they are the ones that have the most stake in it and knowingly bet on future budget increases. Congress and the White House only deal with space issues episodically and they’re not central to their overall goals. Space is a minor niche issue. In mid 2000s NASA had a “only once in our generation do we get the chance to remake the human space program” mentality, so they doubled down and tried to build programs so big and get them going down the road quickly so they couldnt be stopped. In some ways, that reflects where things are now and it worked, but we have a program that is missing key pieces to do anything meaningful.

    You are right that it’s not just NASA’s fault, but they did a lot to make the bed they have to lay in.

    • Coastal Ron

      Guesr said:

      …and I think at the core is a lack of clear rationale for human space, making it hard to focus and sustain.

      I’d agree with that.

      Having said that, I focus on NASA blowing it because they are the ones that have the most stake in it and knowingly bet on future budget increases.

      I disagree with that, but let’s test out your theory.

      Name the person or persons that have been long-term employees of NASA that we can blame for the situation NASA is in. Plus, explain how they own enough of the process that it is fair to blame them and not the Administration or Congress.

  • Guesr

    NASA builds the budget and plans. Yes, OMB and Congress tweak and torque it, sometimes a lot, but usually more of tweak. NASA has the power that comes with writing the first draft and the advantage of understanding more of the details and risks. As for individuals, I’d have to say that Griffin is largely responsible for pushing NASA todo as much as possible as quickly as possible. I believe he was the one that coined “Apollo on steroids.” I think Griffin set the tone, and wanted to go big, despite war ings and concerns from important stakeholders like Mikulski who clearly stated cocners about cost from the very get-go. O’Keefe’s implementation was much more measured and probably would have yielded better resiults.

    NASA is now caught in a trap that it helped create (unaffordable programs that don’t have all the pieces for meaningful missions). I think NASA underestimated the resolve of certain lawmakers to force the agency into technical solutions.

    Bottom line, NASA put options on the table that it knew it couldnt afford, tried to sell it for a time, entered into contracts, new leadership came in (aided by Augustine results), triedto change course and admit that it was unworkable, but Contract holders twisted Congress into forcing NASA to keep it. NASA should never put a solution on the table that it cannot execute. The knew better. They blew it.

    • Coastal Ron

      Guesr said:

      NASA builds the budget and plans. Yes, OMB and Congress tweak and torque it, sometimes a lot, but usually more of tweak.

      You would get a lot of pushback on that description, especially from people in Congress. As the saying goes, “the President proposes, but Congress disposes”. Congress is not beholden to what the President proposes for any agency, NASA included. And even the budget the President proposes is not really NASA’s, since it is the President that ultimately decides what each agency is supposed to be doing at a high level.

      As for individuals, I’d have to say that Griffin is largely responsible for pushing NASA todo as much as possible as quickly as possible.

      OK, now we’re getting to the real issue. Though Griffin had worked at NASA previously, he was still an outsider and a Presidential appointee when Bush made him NASA Administrator, not someone that was being “promoted” from within NASA. Few people have made that leap for long periods of time, and it’s why I say that “NASA” has never really been responsible for what it’s directed to do.

      And then you mention O’Keefe, who definitely was not a NASA guy. Though in hindsight he did a much better job with NASA than Griffin did, he was another example of outsiders coming in to run NASA, not NASA controlling it’s own destiny.

      Bottom line, NASA put options on the table that it knew it couldnt afford, tried to sell it for a time, entered into contracts, new leadership came in (aided by Augustine results), triedto change course and admit that it was unworkable, but Contract holders twisted Congress into forcing NASA to keep it.

      That is incorrect, at least for the Constellation program. Bush created the VSE, and O’Keefe had a pretty good process going for figuring out the best way to accomplish it, but when Griffin came in he directed NASA to go with the “Apollo on steroids” approach that gave us the Ares I/V and Orion. That hardware decision made the entire program unaffordable, not anything NASA employees did.

      NASA should never put a solution on the table that it cannot execute. The knew better. They blew it.

      NASA employees are not immune to incompetence, but from a gross standpoint, it is not NASA that is making most of the big dollar decisions and mistakes, it is political appointees and politicians.

  • Nom de plume

    Getting back to Mica, too much infrastructure, and asking “what else NASA can do to rid itself of facilities it no longer needs.” I hope the key point is “what else” because surely he knows KSC already has a huge effort underway to demolish old buildings that are expensive to maintain and no longer needed. I assume a similar though not as aggressive an effort is taking place at other NASA Centers. If he doesn’t know about it, then this subcommittee hearing will be just another forum to try to score political points.

    Doubt it will ever happen, but maybe he’ll call for an evaluation of NASA Centers with a goal to close some, stop spreading the pork around, and go for cost efficiency. Or maybe he’ll ask why is Space Florida wanting to build another launch site at KSC instead of using existing pads. Or let’s sell some of that excess government-owned Florida real estate. I’m not sure when the hearing will be scheduled, but I sure I’ll be washing my hair that day.

  • mike shupp

    I don’t think Mica is all that concerned with political points. I gather this is kind of his thing — worrying about the pence here and there while other Congressmen spend pounds. I doubt that he’ll go so far as to advocate a BRAC-like closure of half a dozen NASA centers, such as all the space buffs here would wish to see.

    • Coastal Ron

      mike shupp said:

      I doubt that he’ll go so far as to advocate a BRAC-like closure of half a dozen NASA centers, such as all the space buffs here would wish to see.

      Downsizing is never easy, and it does cause some grief. And that is why it doesn’t get done much, because local politicians point out how much “pain” there is, even though it makes sense from a national standpoint.

      And because carrying excess personnel and facilities actually slows down NASA’s ability to do the things it is chartered to do, we have to look at the big picture here. So yes, I’m in favor of a BRAC-like commission that will do a detailed study to find out how NASA’s staffing and facilities can be “right-sized” for their current needs.

      But I doubt that will be the outcome of this proposed review…

  • James

    “Congressman wants to know if NASA has too much infrastructure”

    The answer to this question is ‘yes’.
    Here are some other questions in which the answer is equally obvious:

    Is the SLS a big waste of money?
    Is the SLS killing NASA in the eyes of the public?
    Is there no mission for SLS beyond test flights and a kludge of an Asteroid Retrieval Mission?
    Is the Obama Administration indifferent, at best, to NASA’s future
    Is there an organizational dysfunction between Congress, the White House, OMB, that is killing NASA?
    Is NASA lacking true leadership within the ranks of it’s SES?
    Is Bolden ineffective in his attempts to transform NASA’s management practices (That have given us JWST – the Agency Killer Program?) ?
    Is NASA’s management practices, though well document and defended by the author’s, inadequate to address the circumstances of it’s time (i.e. lower budgets, higher mission costs, less missions, etc.)?
    Is NASA like a Chicken with its head cut off, running around still thinking it’s alive?
    Does Congress ask questions in which the answer is obvious?
    Does Congress lack conviction, courage, and leadership to act in the long term interests of the nation, vs. their on short term self interests?
    Etc. Etc. ETc.

    • @James,….I’ll attempt to answer some of these queries: Is the SLS a big waste of money?—–Ultimately NO, but in its present form & scheme for its use, there are errors being done. First, it should NOT be an all-things-to-all-people vehicle. This is the mistake they made with the Space Shuttle in the 80′s. It should be built as a humans-to-Moon vehicle, specifically; and only subsequent to that goal being acheived, should it be assigned anything deviating from that. (Like when the Saturn 5 launched Skylab, in 1973.) In absence of a manned lunar goal, the project is basically meaningless. Using it for an asteroid retrieval is a pointless squandering of assets! Further, it is the full-up Ares 5 rocket that we should be building, NOT some substandard version, that is divorced from any specific lunar spacecrafts. Constructing such a less powerful rocket, and leaving any ideas for what it’ll carry as an open & ambiguous factor, is a bad long-run survival prescription: The SLS will merely become the American counterpart of the Russian Energia—–the project’ll go NO farther than a few unmanned-mission test-flights, before being cancelled, for purportedly being “too expensive & too purposeless”.

      • Coastal Ron

        Chris Castro said:

        First, it should NOT be an all-things-to-all-people vehicle. This is the mistake they made with the Space Shuttle in the 80′s. It should be built as a humans-to-Moon vehicle…

        I disagree, and for the most part, so does the entire commercial transportation industry. What we need are general purpose transports that can be used on a frequent basis, because more frequency of use means lower overall $/lb, and it makes the system safer. Notice I didn’t mention rockets, since this applies to ALL transportation systems, including rockets.

        And regarding “humans-to-Moon” vehicles, you keep thinking the Apollo model is the only one, even though Von Braun himself didn’t think the Apollo model was the best way to go anywhere. It was the most expedient when we needed to get to the Moon by the end of the 60′s, but it was not sustainable.

        Further, it is the full-up Ares 5 rocket that we should be building

        For WHAT? NASA can’t even afford to build payloads for the 70mt SLS, and you think we need a 188mt launcher?

        YOU ARE NUTS!!!!

        Who’s going to pay for that? Earth to Chris – Congress doesn’t even want to authorize missions for the SLS!!!

        Until we have enough demand for payloads larger than what fit on existing rockets, we don’t need a government HLV. And when we finally do have a need, the commercial sector is more than capable of building and operating whatever is needed.

        It’s amazing you don’t understand this.

        • @Coastal Ron,….As a matter of NASA agency efficiency, sure, NOT building the SLS at all, is an idea which ironically, to a lunar enthusiast observer, might make the most sense. (In the short-term). Of course, there is an asterisk attached to that! Since we apparently are not going back to the Moon, anytime soon, thanks to the flim-flam man in the Oval Office, it would sadly, make no sense to build a Heavy Lift rocket at all—–you can get me to admit that much. But the motives behind the Commercial Crew people wanting NO Heavy Lift built, are rooted in sheer envy, monopolism, & selfish self-interest. Commercial Crew wants to undercut & prevent any strong government space program from rivaling its own; and it wants to maintain the fiction that it can deliver more than LEO, in the future—–which it simply cannot!
          If a viable Heavy Lift rocket would come into existence, and would prove better able to deliver cargo & modules to deep space—–which it would—–, Commercial Crew would be threatened, having their reason-to-be gone or marginalized in the long-run. Their whole reason for being handed a manned spaceflight monopoly, depends on NASA staying firmly perched in LEO. As soon as Moon missions enter the picture again, there is NO reason for America to be stuck dealing with the space entrepreneurs, any longer.
          NASA should find an alternate launch rocket, for the Orion craft, as soon as it can. If not an Ares 1, then another medium-small rocket. It should be obvious to any engineer, that while Heavy Lift is needed to send up Moon landers & base elements, it is not needed to meet the intermediate goal of launching the Orion into LEO, the first leg of its much-longer journey to deep space.

          • Coastal Ron

            Chris Castro said:

            Since we apparently are not going back to the Moon, anytime soon, thanks to the flim-flam man in the Oval Office…

            You don’t understand how America’s government works Chris. Asleep during civics?

            Congress writes the funding laws, and if Congress wanted America to go back to the Moon, then they would create such a funding bill and send it to the President to sign or veto. But Congress has as much interest in sending government employees back to the Moon as the current President does (and most President’s since Kennedy), which means NO ONE in high government today is interested in doing what you want, not just Obama.

            But the motives behind the Commercial Crew people wanting NO Heavy Lift built…

            Unless you have evidence to the contrary, Boeing, Sierra Nevada and SpaceX have not been lobbying against the SLS.

            Maybe you are confusing those that support Commercial Crew with the companies that are actually building Commercial Crew? Those are two different things.

            For instance, I support the efforts of companies that are trying to lower the cost to access space, since to me that is the #1 reason we don’t do more in space, including going back to the Moon. The Commercial Cargo and Crew programs are lowering the cost to access space, so of course I support them.

            Why don’t I support the SLS? Because it RAISES the cost to access space, not lower it. And as you admit, there is nothing for the government HLV to do, so it’s a waste of taxpayer money.

            Apparently you support waste, I don’t.

          • Coastal Ron

            Chris Castro said:

            If a viable Heavy Lift rocket would come into existence, and would prove better able to deliver cargo & modules to deep space—–which it would—–, Commercial Crew would be threatened, having their reason-to-be gone or marginalized in the long-run.

            Only if that HLV LOWERED the cost of getting crew to space.

            You’re not in business I can guess, and you don’t have to deal with money. Right? Because you can’t seem to wrap your mind around the idea that if companies like SpaceX can lower the price of getting people to space down from $150M (Shuttle) or $70M (Soyuz) to $20M (Dragon), then we’ll be able to send more people to space. It’s that simple.

            So unless an HLV can match or beat the price of Commercial Crew systems in operation at that time, then it wouldn’t make much sense to use an HLV for crew, would it?

            NASA should find an alternate launch rocket, for the Orion craft, as soon as it can.

            One has existed for over a decade, and that is the Delta IV Heavy. It’s proven, and it would only take $1.4B to make it ready for human transport. If NASA is going to be forced to use the Orion/MPCV, then the Delta IV Heavy is the least costly transport for it today (Falcon Heavy later). Of course Michael Griffin knew about the Delta IV Heavy, and lied in order to build the Ares I – I still think he should be brought up on charges for that.

            It should be obvious to any engineer…

            Are you an engineer?

            …that while Heavy Lift is needed to send up Moon landers & base elements, it is not needed to meet the intermediate goal of launching the Orion into LEO, the first leg of its much-longer journey to deep space.

            It’s been pointed out to you many times Chris, that ULA has shown that an HLV is not necessary for setting up a permanently occupied outpost on the Moon. We can do it today with our existing rockets, using existing technologies.

            You need to look at the transportation industry for clues on how the launch industry should work. As DEMAND goes up, then the industry responds by increasing SUPPLY, which is either more frequency using the same size transportation, or if the demand merits it, then large transportation is added to the system.

            What we currently lack is demand. Our existing launchers can handle everything the government has said it needs. Until that changes, a government HLV is not needed. It’s that simple.

      • “First, it should NOT be an all-things-to-all-people vehicle. This is the mistake they made with the Space Shuttle in the 80′s.”

        Not to worry. The Shuttle was trying to address NASA and Department of Defense and commercial users…and proved too expensive and fragile for all of them.

        However, the DoD has no interest in SLS. They neither have nor anticipate payloads that need that capacity. The commercial sector has no interest in SLS. They neither have nor anticipate payloads that need that capacity, with the possible exception of Bigelow Aerospace’s largest module. (And what is a fair price for an SLS launch if you did want to buy one? And I mean an honest, at least break-even price. Anything less is a government subsidy.)

        It should be built as a humans-to-Moon vehicle, specifically; and only subsequent to that goal being acheived, should it be assigned anything deviating from that. (Like when the Saturn 5 launched Skylab, in 1973.)”

        So, a launcher that already has only one possible customer (who is already fishing hard for uses for it), should be required to use it for just one possible set of missions that may or may not ever be funded, at some unknown time in the future? Economies of scale dictate that the fewer of these you make (and presumably use), the (even) higher the unit cost of each one is going to be, and the less practice and proficiency the launch crews are going to have.

        Also. what to you think the difference would be between a ‘Mars-only’ launcher, and an ‘anything that will fit on top of it’ launcher? Be thankful that there was a use for the Saturn V that launched Skylab. The rocket doesn’t care what its payload is, and without Skylab, it would merely have become yet a third lawn ornament at some other NASA center like its two sisters, once Apollo 18-20 were cancelled. You should be looking/hoping for more uses and justifications for this beast, not less.

      • Vladislaw

        16 billion for a disposable capsule .. think about that one … 16 BILLION!

        Wow isn’t that a cherry to put on top of the 30 billion dollar disposable rocket. According to the independant Booz Allen it will be a lot more than that and there is nothing on the current horizon that shows the costs doing nothing but going up.

        Now .. spending 60-70 BILLION when ALL the domestic aerospace companies came in under 8 billion …

        Oh well, back to your point:
        Chris Castro wrote:
        “Is the SLS a big waste of money?—–Ultimately NO”

        When America could have fully funded 10 seperate companies to produce a heavy lift for the same price as what we are paying for the SLS then ulitmately the whole exercise was an illustration of insanity on a bun which will ultimately never survive the next administration.

  • Hiram

    “In absence of a manned lunar goal, the project is basically meaningless.”

    Our nation currently has no such goal. But that is correct. In the absence of such a goal, SLS is destined for a few test flights, perhaps sending humans on a one-off visit to an asteroid (which indeed is a pointless squandering of assets), before being cancelled as being too expensive and too purposeless. So what it’s come down to is a “Gee, we’re building an HLV, so we really ought to go put a human back on the Moon”. That is, putting a human back on the Moon becomes a rationale for SLS, as opposed to the other way around, which is how it’s supposed to work. Of course, right now, ARM is some sort of rationale for SLS, as opposed to the other way around.

    • @Hiram,….Sure, it makes no sense to build a Heavy-Lift rocket now—–but that is only because of the Moon goal being cancelled. If we eventually get a President & top NASA agency leadership that’d be friendly once again, to a human Lunar Return, then all of a sudden Heavy-Lift becomes a necessary evil to actually do, in fact. And it follows that you would expressly design such a huge multi-stage rocket concurrently with whatever specific module-vehicles that you were planning for it to carry, for the planned deep space jaunt——just like the construction of the Saturn 5 was guided by the designs for the Apollo CSM & LM, in the past.
      By the way, it’s good to see that some of you all, are coming to the same conclusion——that the proposed Asteroid Retrieval Mission is a total bunk & waste of valuable rocket power & engineering ability! Come on, gentlemen: Why don’t we just get our men & equipment to the Moon first, and only later on, try to send a manned flight to reach quasi-satellite Cruithne, once the spacecrafts have proven themselves viable, in cis-lunar space?!

      • James

        As the previous discussion attest, SLS is extremely lacking of any purpose other than pork pork pork. One needs to make very twisted arguments to come up with any reasonable justification for SLS.

        Let Commercial get us to LEO.
        Let NASA develop an interplanetary space vehicle/laboratory/something. Nautilus for instance.

        This lets the destination be somewhat flexible, which is Obama’s preferred choice of pretending to be interested in what NASA is doing.

        Also, the ‘ground infrastructure’ to support a Nautilus can easily be a derivative, delta , from the ISS operations world.

        Let commercial support their ground infrastructure costs by tending to other than NASA customers.

        If something resembling sanity, common sense, ( As viewed by the general public – not congress) doesn’t materialize soon, then the headless Chicken will soon fall over.

      • Coastal Ron

        Chris Castro said:

        By the way, it’s good to see that some of you all, are coming to the same conclusion——that the proposed Asteroid Retrieval Mission is a total bunk & waste of valuable rocket power & engineering ability!

        Since the ARM was an excuse by Senator Nelson to find a use for the SLS, it was clear from the moment they announced it that it was not worth taxpayer funding. If you would have been reading the comments in Space Politics about this, you would have known this long ago.

        You’re just now realizing that those of us that think the SLS is a waste of taxpayer money also think that missions that use the SLS are also wastes of money?

        Weird.

        • Hiram

          “You’re just now realizing that those of us that think the SLS is a waste of taxpayer money also think that missions that use the SLS are also wastes of money?”

          Let’s be careful here. If we had an uber-HLV that was a cost-effective launcher, that would be marvelous for many things. I can think of loads of missions that would be enabled. The science community had lots of good ideas about how to use an Ares V, for example, disregarding the fact that SMD would have to do some reverse mortgaging to buy an Ares V. But what makes a mission a waste of money is not that it could use an SLS, but that an SLS is the only way to fulfill the HLV it might need. In particular, missions that are ginned up wholly in order to use an SLS are the most suspect, ARM being a prominent example.

          In fact, with proper investments in propulsion technology and a spirit of commercialization (aka Falcon 9H), the prospect of relatively economical HLVs is not far-fetched. So let’s keep our eye on those missions that might need an uber-HLV, but let’s not be stupid enough to try to pull them off in the near term with an SLS.

          • James

            The science community had lots of good ideas about how to use an Ares V, :

            Too bad there is no money in SMD for anything that might use an Ares V, or other heavy lifter.

            SMD is not lacking for ideas. They are lacking money. The Headless Chicken is also walking the halls of SMD……

            • Hiram

              “Too bad there is no money in SMD for anything that might use an Ares V, or other heavy lifter.”

              Very true. Actually, I think the science community was desperately imagining a situation as with HST and Shuttle, where SMD didn’t pay for Shuttle launch costs. That was a marvelous deal for SMD. The illusion is that, sure, HEOMD will pay for our uber-HLV launch vehicles, because they want someone (anyone!) to use them. That’s the kind of fantasy that is being lived out these days at NASA.

              In fact, even a science payload that would fill a uber-HLV would be so profoundly expensive it might happen once a decade anyway. Hardly a way to encourage frequent use.

          • Coastal Ron

            Hiram said:

            If we had an uber-HLV that was a cost-effective launcher, that would be marvelous for many things.

            Yes, it would be marvelous. But we don’t one of those, all we have is the unneeded and extremely expensive SLS.

            But let’s say that an “uber-HLV that was a cost-effective launcher” did magically show up. If it’s driven by some sort of “demand”, whether it’s commercial, government, or a combination of both, then that’s great, that would be supply and demand in balance.

            However if some entity built an “uber-HLV that was a cost-effective launcher”, and there was no demand for it’s services, then that’s not good either. There would be too much supply. SpaceX is seeing this right now with the Falcon Heavy, since compared to the Falcon 9 orders that came in years before it became operational, the Falcon Heavy only has a couple of orders.

            Of course SpaceX has designed the Falcon Heavy to be 99% compatible with the Falcon 9, so they don’t need a lot of orders to be profitable on that product offering. They can show the market that the supply is there long-term, and the market can have a chance to test out whether they want to go with bigger payloads.

            If you view these issues through the lense of Supply & Demand, then I think it’s pretty easy to see when something looks like it isn’t a good idea (i.e. the SLS).

  • Hiram

    “Come on, gentlemen: Why don’t we just get our men & equipment to the Moon first”

    Well, not doing one pointless squandering of assets hardly justifies doing another pointless squandering of assets. The big issue here is “pointlessness”. If landing humans on the Moon again had some real point, there might be a case to be made here. But a credible point has never developed any consensus on returning humans to the Moon. It’s not a matter of … “buh, buh, but we have to launch humans SOMEWHERE!” If they don’t have some task to fulfill that serves a national need, we don’t need to launch humans anywhere. At least using taxpayer money.

    Let’s carry that over to infrastructure. It’s not a matter of … “buh, buh, but we have to have loads of NASA facilities SOMEWHERE!” If those facilities don’t have some task to fulfill that serves a national need, we don’t need them. It’s not enough to say that, well, we could/might do this that or the other so we could/might need them. Mica’s point that we have evolved the space program is noteworthy, though it’s evolved to the point that, at least with regard to human spaceflight, we really haven’t decided what we’re really trying to do, besides travel. That strikes me more as de-evolution, which can, I suppose, actually be constructive in the long run.

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