Congress, NASA

At hearing, some argue Mars flyby mission can provide direction for NASA human spaceflight program

Dissatisfied with NASA’s current asteroid mission plans, and seeking a more detailed framework to support eventual human missions to Mars, some members of the House Science Committee used a hearing Thursday to press the administration to support a once-private proposal for a Mars flyby mission.

“While consensus on Capitol Hill might be hard to find, there is general agreement that the President’s asteroid retrieval mission inspires neither the scientific community nor the public who would foot the bill,” said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the committee, in his opening statement. He supported the idea of a Mars flyby mission. “NASA, the White House, and Congress should consider this Mars flyby mission proposal.”

The proposal is a variant of the Inspiration Mars mission concept unveiled exactly one year earlier by a team lead by multimillionaire Dennis Tito, the first space tourist to visit the ISS. At that time, a privately-funded mission would launch in early 2018, flying by Mars later that year before returning to Earth 501 days after launch. The 2021 version, as described by Doug Cooke, former NASA associate administrator for exploration systems who has served on Inspiration Mars’s advisory board, would launch in November 2021. The mission features a flyby of Venus in April 2022 and a flyby of Mars in October of that year before returning to Earth in June 2023.

The hearing, though, offered few other technical details about the mission concept, beyond its use of the Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket and the Orion spacecraft. As mentioned in a November hearing, the SLS would require a new upper stage that NASA currently doesn’t plan to develop until well into the 2020s; the mission would also require a habitation module of some kind as well. Cooke, asked at the hearing about how much this mission would cost, deferred to NASA. “I think that question should be asked of NASA, to go look at this mission seriously,” he said. “To my knowledge, there’s not been a cost analysis of this.”

Cooke and another witness, Scott Pace of George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute, argued that the 2021 Mars flyby mission could be part of a broader framework of exploration missions. Pace said that there was a growing international consensus that the next step for human spaceflight beyond Earth orbit was cislunar space. Yet a Mars flyby mission, he argued, “serves as an interesting bridge, a potential bridge, between where we are with the ISS and where we would like to be with Mars and where our international partners and commercial opportunities are with human spaceflight beyond Earth orbit.” The firm deadline of a 2021 mission, dictated by orbital mechanics, would drive decisions “on how to rationally trade cost, schedule, risk, and performance.”

Some other witnesses, though, raised concerns about the mission concept. “In my opinion, the Inspiration Mars proposal provides, I think, an exciting opportunity for our space exploration and certainly for NASA,” said retired Air Force Gen. Lester Lyles. But, he added, “it does have high risk associated with it.” AIAA executive director Sandy Magnus, a former astronaut, said she didn’t doubt there would be astronauts willing to fly such a mission, but they would ask many questions about it, including life support, radiation, and other issues. “What am I going to do during the mission itself?” she asked. “If you are sending two people to Mars on a flyby they’re going to need to occupy their time.”

While Smith and other members expressed interest in the mission, that support wasn’t universal. Committee vice-chairman Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) said he initially supported the Inspiration Mars concept when it was privately funded, but his mind had changed when it turned into something that required public funding. “I think this is a foolhardy use of very limited government resources,” he said.

The committee’s ranking member, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), also questioned whether the mission was suitable for the first crewed SLS/Orion mission, saying it was “unfortunate” that no current NASA officials were invited to testify. She noted that the title of the hearing was a question: “Mars Flyby 2021: The First Deep Space Mission for the Orion and Space Launch System?” “I would guess that the likely answer will turn out to be ‘no,’” she said in her opening remarks. However, she added that NASA needs to provide more details on the steps it plans to take to reach the long-term goal of a human landing on Mars.

After the hearing, Reps. Smith and Frank Wolf (R-VA), chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA, sent a joint letter to NASA administrator Charles Bolden. In the letter, they state that “it is time for NASA to begin to develop a clear, well-planned technical implementation plan for the future of human spaceflight over the next few months.” Part of that assessment, they argues, should include both the 2018 and 2021 Mars flyby opportunities. The overall study, they added, “should be independent of the Administration’s budget projections and instead based on what NASA believes such systems could be developed.”

Inspiration Mars’s Dennis Tito weighed in on the hearing in a statement Thursday afternoon, saying he was “very encouraged” by the discussion. “I continue to believe, as do many Americans, that Mars is the logical destination to put human space exploration back on track and demonstrate the ‘can do’ spirit that seems to have faded over time,” he said. “The window of opportunity in 2021 is challenging but achievable and waiting to be claimed.”

91 comments to At hearing, some argue Mars flyby mission can provide direction for NASA human spaceflight program

  • James

    After watching the committee meeting it is clearly obvious that there is no NASA policy for space exploration. The witnesses – all serving their own interests – seem to be arguing (with possible exception of Ms. Magnus) that the mission to Mars only make sense in a larger context of an actual exploration policy – which of course is non existent.

    Nature does not tolerate a vacuum; something will flow into it. You can see how vacuous NASA’s Exploration Policy is because ideas continue to flow into the vacuum: First Cx, Then Flex-i-path, then because no money ARM, and now Mars 2021.

    Its laughable, really. And a national joke. And an indictment of how bankrupt our form of government is.

    The only voices I heard that made sense, that didn’t’ seem to be preening for their next job interview – was that of Ms. Magnus – who was speaking from the rational astronaut perspective – and Rep. Edwards – who seems to genuinely want Congress to support NASA in a way that makes sense (i.e. not picking content of its portfolio) even asking what is the best way for Congress to support NASA.

    Clearly there is no alignment of all the forces that have a stake in Explorations future; that is clearly a massive failure of leadership. And by leader, that would be anyone who is paid to lead.

    Third world country status here we come.

    Ugh.

    • @James,…..Third World country status, here we are! America now has a space program incapable of even reaching mere LEO with a crew! Were it not for our old cold war rival Russia, our spacemen would NOT even get to fly! Further, all this bravado-talk about Commercial Crew developing new man-rated capsules, is turning out to be a huge joke! Sure, they’ve got us unmanned cargo craft to visit the ISS, but designing & successfully flying a manned craft is going to prove to be way too hard of a task, for these hobbyists. Prediction: by the time Inauguration Day, January 2017 gets here, NOT a single American astronaut will’ve been flown, on an American vehicle.

      • Michael Kent

        “Further, all this bravado-talk about Commercial Crew developing new man-rated capsules, is turning out to be a huge joke! Sure, they’ve got us unmanned cargo craft to visit the ISS, but designing & successfully flying a manned craft is going to prove to be way too hard of a task, for these hobbyists.”

        Let’s see. Boeing designed and built the Mercury capsule, the Gemini capsule, and the Apollo capsule. They were the prime contractor for Skylab. They designed and built the Space Shuttle orbiter, performed Shuttle payload processing, and as half of USA refurbished the Shuttle between flights, including the Orbiter Maintenance Down Periods. Boeing is also the prime contractor for ISS, having designed and built the truss and designed the American pressurized modules and built the first few.

        Boeing also designed the manned X-15 and unmanned X-40, X-37, X-43, and X-51 spaceplanes and the Delta Clipper, building all but the X-43.

        In short, every vehicle in which NASA has ever sent a crew into space was designed and built by Boeing. To you, this makes them a “hobbyist.”

        Meanwhile the prime contractor for the Orion MPCV, Lockheed Martin, has never designed or built a manned spacecraft of any kind. I suppose to you this makes them a “professional.”

        There’s a reason why Lockheed is taking 15 years and $16.5 billion to take a four-man expendable sea-landing capsule and Boeing is taking six years and about $2 billion to take a seven-man re-usable land-landing capsule from start to first manned flight. And it isn’t because the faster, better, cheaper one is a hobbyist.

        “Prediction: by the time Inauguration Day, January 2017 gets here, NOT a single American astronaut will’ve been flown, on an American vehicle.”

        That would still be 4-1/2 years before the first manned flight of Orion, which started four years earlier.

      • “Further, all this bravado-talk about Commercial Crew developing new man-rated capsules, is turning out to be a huge joke! Sure, they’ve got us unmanned cargo craft to visit the ISS, but designing & successfully flying a manned craft is going to prove to be way too hard of a task, for these hobbyists.

        How can you take cargo up and down to ISS (and even the Russians have minimal downmass capability), do it for money (which is usually the definition of being a professional, rather than an amateur), and still be a hoobyist?

        Oh, and one of the Commercial Crew partners is Boeing.

        Please tell me how they, of all people, got downrated to ‘hobbyist’ status? I’d be most interested in hearing that.

        Are you implying that in the absence of Commercial Crew, that SLS and Orion would be flying now? Are you suggesting that continuing Constellation would have Ares-I and Orion flying now? Sorry, even under the Constellation schedule, assuming it could have been kept, the first such flight also would not have been until 2017. (also could have done little more than Apollo 7 did) If not, then what are you suggesting?

        Without Commercial Crew, the US could only expect to be without its own manned space launch capability even longer. I can’t speak for you, but that prospect has no appeal for me.

      • josh

        actually building a manned spacecraft is proving to be too hard of a task for lockmart, even after 10 billion spent. they’re the hobbyist (getting billions from the taxpayers for failing again and again and again), spacex are the professionals, they’re the ones getting results, simple. all the rest is bullshit.

  • I posted this link in an earlier thread, but for newcomers here’s the video of the hearing:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kjLsOo0CuqA

  • Dark Blue Nine

    This mission requires more magical thinking than a leprechaun trying to predict the track of a flock of flying unicorns on their annual migration.

    MPCV employs a heat shield designed for lunar return and its CM is ~20% (thousands of pounds) overweight for its parachutes. But we’re going to equip MPCV with an even heavier heat shield for Mars return and magically it will be capable of a safe Earth landing?

    There’s practically no element of the ISS ECLSS that lasts more than a year. But magically every component will remain operating for 17 months in a new vehicle when applied to a Mars flyby mission?

    ASAP is warning about the lack of an ECLSS shakedown on MPCV before sending astronauts around the Moon for a few days. But magically we’re going to decide that the ASAP membership are all wimps of the highest order and decide to risk astronaut lives for 17 months on the first shakedown of the MPCV ECLSS?

    At best, SLS is scheduled to have an upper stage capable of launching this mission a half decade after the mission’s 2021 window closes. And magically that half decade of development is going to be accelerated by more than a decade?

    Congress can’t find funding to perform testing like AA-2 or to finish development like MPCV ECLSS in a timely fashion, and the White House is wrapped around the axle of ARM. But magically billions of dollars of federal funding are going to appear in a timely manner to develop a new ECLSS, a new hab module, a new heat shield, and a new upper stage for this mission?

    Where can I buy what Cooke and Pace are smoking?

    • James

      Great post!!!

      Pace and his ilk are lying through their teeth about the real challenges, as you so brilliantly noted. But members of Congress don’t care. I was aghast at how dim witted many of the questions asked by the committee were. These guys are allowing themselves to be lied to, to further their own agenda.

      Pa thet ic

    • MrEarl

      With a major effort, everything that DBN mentions could be solved.
      The real questions remains; Why make this major effort? What is to gained? The answer is, Not much. It’s a stunt. I think that members of this panel are looking at this mission as a way to sell congress on the need to speedup development of these capabilities. We only need to look at the Apollo program to know what will become of these capabilities.

      Let’s assume that congress get’s a wild hair up it’s butt and approves this mission and, in a time of very tight budgets, decides to give NASA all the resources it needs to make this mission successful. If history is any guide, the astronauts will return in 2023 to a huge heroes welcome. There will be much chest thumping and bragging and the US will be #1 in space again! Six months later there will be a new phrase; “If we can send a man to Mars why can’t we…..” (fill in the blank with any difficult/impossible task you like). In a few years we would have lost those capabilities that we spent so much time and treasure to acquire because once the stunt is over there is no more need to use them. As president Obama said a few years ago about returning to the moon; “Been there, done that.”. That is the public mindset.
      Stunts are not a space policy!
      It’s way past time to develop a coherent plan to expand our sphere of influence for manned space flight to cis-lunar space, Mars and beyond.

      • Vladislaw

        I agree, with the soon to be launched Falcon Heavy, congress wants another windfall… to nail down a decade of additional funding for SLS.Orion… Once domestic Commercial cargo, crew and a commercial destination comes online … the porkonauts know the party is over.

      • Hiram

        “As president Obama said a few years ago about returning to the moon; “Been there, done that.”. That is the public mindset.
        Stunts are not a space policy!”

        In all fairness, stunts can be part of space policy. Apollo was largely a stunt. It was doing something to show everyone we could do it. That’s the definition of a stunt. At that time, geopolitically, it was a profoundly important stunt. We desperately needed to show everyone what we could do, because our technological capabilities, especially with regard to missles and space, were being eclipsed. No such thing is happening now, and to the extent that our technological capabilities are being competed with, they aren’t being competed with by nations that threaten our security.

        But that’s exactly right about what federal funding of Mars2021 will engender. It’ll be chest thumping and bragging. How powerful that bragging will be. We will have succeeded in doing something that you all were never even trying to do. We set up cones, started the race, and then dared others to compete as we ran past them. Another trophy to put on the shelf, and gaze at for a few decades why we try to understand exactly why we did it, and how it is worth building on.

    • red

      As I was suggesting in the previous Mars flyby article, the mission would make more sense (or at least less nonsense) if we scrapped Orion altogether and used its funding wedge to take care of some of the mission requirements. Build a small new 2-person reentry capsule that can handle the Mars reentry with a COTS-like procurement with some of that funding. The mini capsule wouldn’t need all sorts of other features like the Orion LAS, SM, ECLSS, etc. Use some of the funding from Orion for the new SLS upper stage. Use a commercial crew launch to get the astronauts to the system. Let IM help reduce the funding gap with work on the hab with ECLSS and SM, but provide IM with NASA support via allowing initial testing on the ISS. This is somewhat similar to what IM proposed in November.

      Even so, I doubt all of the pieces would fall together in time, but at least some useful things could result (getting rid of Orion, building a mini capsule more useful for deep space missions than Orion, testing a deep space hab based on Cygnus (or maybe commercial inflatables), ECLSS technology development, ISS use, and setting the precedent of commercial crew use in SLS missions, relieving SLS of the crew-rating burden, and making SLS less useless via the more powerful upper stage).

      However, the Congressional plan looks like it doubles down on Orion, not just SLS, thereby losing most of the above benefits and making funding the mission more laughable.

      • @red,…..If the Mars zealots & Commercial Space enthusiasts hadn’t played their role in getting Project Constellation cancelled, there would’ve been an Ares 5 rocket built by 2020, that would NOT have been burdened with having to be man-rated, like a Saturn 5. The Ares 5, as envisioned for its Lunar purpose, was to’ve been a heavy-cargo launcher, only. Astronauts were to’ve been sent to space on a separate smaller rocket, to rendezvous with the cislunar spacecrafts, up there. This arrangement, would’ve lent itself to way better flexibility, with regard to the launching of mega-large-sized mission components.

        • Neil Shipley

          re, who cancelled Cx Chris? Oh yeh, that was Congress.

        • Chris, don’t you worry. Musk has said SpaceX will be returning us to the Moon. Listen to the part of this video interview at 50 seconds after the start: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U44geuM6iQ0&feature=player_embedded

          Though he says a landing on the Moon would be done “to prove the capability” because he is not really interested in the Moon, he knows others are interested. Once he has proven the hardware then he can sell it to those other interested parties.

          Or maybe the problem with you and others is that the ONLY way you want to go back to Moon is with SLS or other traditionally developed Ares V type Shuttle-derived HLVs and just going back to the Moon any way we can is not the point (as some of us here suspect). I’ve been telling you and others here that this alternate lunar journey was going to happen for quite a while now.

        • Michael Kent

          “If the Mars zealots & Commercial Space enthusiasts hadn’t played their role in getting Project Constellation cancelled, there would’ve been an Ares 5 rocket built by 2020,”

          Ahh, no. Ares 1 & Orion weren’t going to have their first flight until 2019, and that was only if the Shuttle were retired in 2010 (it wasn’t) and the ISS were splashed in 2016 (it won’t be) because Ares I & Orion needed their budget to make that date.

          Because of the $35 billion price tag of Ares I and the $16.5 billion price tag of Orion, development couldn’t even start on the Ares V until they were complete. Ares V wouldn’t actually fly until 2028.

          But because of the $40 billion price tag of the Ares V, no payload for it could be completed by then. Development of the Earth Departure Stage and the Altair lunar lander couldn’t start until Ares V was complete. The EDS and Altair wouldn’t be ready until 2035.

          As large and wasteful as SLS is, it’s lean and efficient compared to Constellation.

          • Matt McClanahan

            As large and wasteful as SLS is, it’s lean and efficient compared to Constellation.

            Yet the same timeline problem of Constellation remains for SLS. It’s too expensive to build alongside any mission hardware, so just as Altair had to wait for Ares V to be done, any nontrivial Orion mission (That is, anything more useful than a lunar flyby) can’t begin development until there’s money available to build mission hardware. It doesn’t matter if SLS/Orion is ready to fly in 2021, it won’t have the necessary hardware to do anything meaningful.

          • @Michael Kent;……”Ares 5 wouldn’t actually fly until 2028,…The EDS & Altair wouldn’t be ready until 2035.”

            Wholesale fiction—–a deliberate revisal of future projections, so that you could SEEM to have a viable argument!! Look, Constellation’s sole technical/technological problem was that it was NOT adequately funded. If the Project had been funded in a timely manner, its flight elements certainly could’ve been built—–within the 2010′s! If any unexpected delays came up, it would’ve been nothing as off the wall, as you Commercial Space proponents suggest.
            Project Apollo was put together within a ten year period, and included diverse mission elements as well: the multi-stage heavy-lift rocket; the main crew vehicle, which served as lunar transport & orbiter; the lunar landing module. All this flimsily-based talk about Constellation taking till 2028 or 2035 to accomplish, merely visualizes what you space cowboys want to forsee: it serves to make the Lunar Return SEEM like a pipe-dream.
            If JKF & LBJ had similarly failed to implement Apollo, just like GWB did with Constellation, then indeed it would’ve resulted in a defeatist, self-fulfilling prophesy, just the same. Apollo 7 would NOT have flown until 1978, and Apollo 11, or an equivalent flight, would NOT have made the premiere Moon landing until 1985!

            • “it serves to make the Lunar Return SEEM like a pipe-dream.”
              Lunar return with Ares V or SLS being a pipe dream is not the same as saying lunar return is a pipe dream and in fact may occur relatively soon. You are still ignoring the point I made earlier. You really don’t want the U.S. to return to the Moon if it doesn’t involve a launch vehicle developed in the way that both Ares V and SLS were proposed to be developed. Anything that isn’t SLS that would accomplish that goal would be a let down to you instead of your being proud that your country has returned. Pretty petty.

              • @Rick Boozer,……Heavy-Lift will still be needed! Any future manned Moon program will require it! Even if the mission elements need two or even three separate launches, for some in-orbit assembly/docking, a Heavy Lift rocket, like the Ares 5 is the smartest way to do it!

                The Commercial Spacers all appear to have NO interest in getting astronauts back to the Moon, and most are quite phobic to the idea. Their ambitions in space go NO higher than the ISS, or to another new ISS-type facility. Naturally, they have NO need for Heavy Lift, in their mode of thinking. Sure, they harbor larger-than-life ideas of human Mars travel, but they’re quite content with the thought that this audacious goal can be figured out by their entrepreneurial can-do spirit, PLUS the sum of the technologies developed on the ISS in LEO. But they’re very wrong! The Moon will need to be included in the interplanetary trek equation, sooner or later—–and much better sooner!

              • “Heavy-Lift will still be needed!”

                I didn’t say it wouldn’t. Maybe for Mars.

                “Any future manned Moon program will require it!”

                Nope. Not according to studies from NASA itself, industry and academia.

                Even if such a large heavy-lift rocket were required, one with more payload capacity than SLS block 2 will probably be available sometime around the middle of the next decade. Sooner and cheaper.

                “The Commercial Spacers all appear to have NO interest in getting astronauts back to the Moon, and most are quite phobic to the idea.”

                B.S., ever heard of Golden Spike? They or others will be customers for SpaceX’s lunar hardware. Did you just totally ignore what I told you about SpaceX’s plans for trying out this hardware with actual flights to the Moon?

                “The Moon will need to be included in the interplanetary trek equation, sooner or later—–and much better sooner!”

                On that point we agree. Be it won’t be done in a way you like.
                This is the real problem, Chris. You SLS huggers don’t care how long your pet rocket gets worked on — as long as you see it being worked on you can convince yourself that it is actually going to be of use. As I said, it appears that you all would rather the U.S. not go anywhere beyond LEO if you can’t have your precious SLS. You care more for it than you do your country’s future in space. I think we might see one or two flights of the low end block 1 SLS around the time private space really gets started toward the Moon. But once those lunar flights start, that’s the beginning of the end for SLS.

                History will be the judge in the long run. I am not going to discuss this any further with you. I thought maybe with the changes happening now that you might become a bit more flexible, but it is impossible to talk someone out of their religion.

            • josh

              constellation was a pipe dream and a total failure, get over it chris. you’re not entitled to your own facts. and to compare the brilliance of apollo to the managerial nightmare and technological clusterf*ck that was constellation…get real.

        • Chris…you speak as if similar amounts of money were involved, when in fact, expressions like ‘drop in the bucket’ come to mind.

          Go find out what the budget for SLS/Orion has been.

          Then go find out what the budget for Commercial Crew (which has been typically about half of what was requested…they might now be closer, otherwise) has been every year.

          And tell me again, with a straight face, that if all the latter had also gone to SLS/Orion development, that it would have gotten them even a few months closer to operational capability…

        • josh

          ares v in 2020…good one. ares v would have flown in 2030, and even that was a big maybe.

          • @Josh,…… He says: “Ares 5 would have flown in 2030, and even that was a big maybe.”

            That’s a crock of guano!! Ares 5 totally could’ve made a year 2020 deadline, IF IT HAD BEEN FUNDED in a timely & correct manner. Since the Altair lander & the earth departure stage were the prime cargo components, for which it was being designed for, I see NO reason why both Altair & the EDS couldn’t have in turn, made a hypothetically revised deadline of 2025, to carry out an actual manned mission——-presumably a low lunar orbit test flight, like Apollo 10.

            The Commercial Spacers sure relish the defeatist talk, when it comes to what timescale Project Constellation could’ve been brought on line! What about how freaking long it’s taking them just to launch a single manned capsule into mere LEO?! What about their snail-pace work at developing a module with a life-support machine that could withstand a 500-day trek to Mars & back——AND a re-entry heat sheild apparatus, to survive the mega-high speed planetfall to Earth?! Oh yeah, ha ha ha, Constellation would not have been built until the 2030′s, BUT Inspiration Mars either 2018 OR 2021 looks to be a sure-done conclusion, certain of deadline-meeting success!?!?!

            • josh

              constellation was supposed to enable a lunar return by 2020. so 2025 would have been a failure already. stop being so defeatist, chris…lol
              constellation was a hyperexpensive, unsustainable and technically unsound architecture, that’s why it failed. i’m very skeptical that any amount of money could have made it work (that’s not really the point though, the funding would have been sufficient if nasa had gone with a more commercial approach). nasa and old space simply can’t do these things anymore.
              spacex on the other hand will go to mars. you can watch.

    • Robert G Oler

      Well said DBN this is all from Fantasy Island RGO

  • Coastal Ron

    The overall study, they added, “should be independent of the Administration’s budget projections and instead based on what NASA believes such systems could be developed.”

    Now that will be fun to see – an budget estimate unrestricted from current budget projections. Educational too if it is done honestly, since it will provide a view into what is needed to fund a use for the SLS.

    Something like that should have been done long ago, since if you don’t know what the upper and lower barriers are, it’s hard to understand if what you have chosen make sense.

  • mike shupp

    Is it just conceivably possible that an election is in the offing and the Congress people running the committee and even some of the witnesses might be partisan Republicans more interested in shticking it to the Obama Administration than to actually considering future NASA manned spaceflight policies?

    Forgive my pitiful intrusion. You’re all so assured and knowledgeable, and I am young and innocent.

    • Hiram

      The idea that Republicans would consider it a shticking of the Obama Administration by mandating our space agency to do something it really doesn’t want to do, and something that has to be viewed by the public as pretty much just a stunt with no clear return probably has the Democrats howling with laughter.

      The Obama Administration has carefully considered manned spaceflight policy, and their carefully considered plan is to, well, just keep doing what we’re doing and hope we can figure out a reason why we’re doing it. The last administration came up with a reason for why we do human space flight, but fell flat on its face in trying to serve it. Both parties realize that human spaceflight is not an endeavor that will bring votes.

      • common sense

        “The Obama Administration has carefully considered manned spaceflight policy, and their carefully considered plan is to, well, just keep doing what we’re doing and hope we can figure out a reason why we’re doing it.”

        This is not true. Not as stated. This WH came up with a FY-11 plan that made all the sense in the world to support the GWB WH VSE. I know it’s hard to believe but Flexible Path is largely similar to the original Spiral Approach with even more emphasis on commercial reliance. Unfortunately NASA, yes NASA, and Congress have resisted all they could. The result is this idiotic status quo we are in, again. The end result will be another bankrupt SLS/MPCV mission that will make NASA look like total idiots, again. Not to mention the 10s of billions of dollars wasted.

        So these boys and girls want a big rocket, there go, play with your toys. Then come ask again about budget after the next sequestration…

        SLS/MPCV: Major stupidity at work.

        Note further that the WH offered to give $$$ to Florida to help workforce transition and they refused.

        What is really funny I think is when the ned Republican WH will kill the whole thing. I can’t wait.

        • Hiram

          “This is not true. Not as stated. This WH came up with a FY-11 plan that made all the sense in the world to support the GWB WH VSE.”

          You’re right, in a way, but the flexible and spiral path approaches don’t tell us where the path is going, or what the end game is supposed to look like. ISS is supposed to be preparing us for the challenges of human spaceflight to distant destinations. It’s doing a wonderful job of that. One distant destination is supposed to be Mars, I guess, but there is no national policy about why we need to go to Mars or exactly what we need to accomplish there.

          In fact, I don’t believe this administration has ever even mentioned the VSE. If their policies made all the sense in the world to support it, you’d think if that were the intent, they’d have said that they stand behind VSE. They haven’t.

          No, by and large, this administration has basically just made it a policy to keep doing what we’re doing. Now, one exception could be the emphasis on technology investment, which was a key element of “Flexible Path”. But this administration hasn’t gotten much traction on that in Congress. My criticism isn’t what they’re doing, or even what they’re not doing, but a lack of brain power expended on what we should be doing. VSE represented at least an attempt to devote major brain power to that question.

          In some perverse way, the SLS is a mark of a Congress that is impatient with that lack of brain power. Of course, Congress doesn’t have brain power to offer, but they do have bucks, and buying big brainless things is what happens. I agree that whatever commitment is made to Mars2021, which would really be a commitment to accelerating SLS development, at some point that development is likely to just flame out. The will be another Augustine II, and a “come to god” moment about it.

          • common sense

            I understand the vagueness overall but sometime the goal is not clear unless you have the supporting technologies. In this instance NASA does not have anything “to go to the Moon, Mars and Beyond” in terms of HSF. Nothing. So if you take that “beyond” statement as a goal then Flexible Path makes a lot of sense. Pay as you go, develop technologies, etc.

            Well Marburger said that we should bring the Solar System in our economic sphere or something like that. Basically: Find a way to make money by exploring and I think there has been tremendous progress on that front. Enough? No. Far from it but compared with 2008? 2004? Immense progress. And as reluctantly as I have to admit, this all started under GWB for some unexplainable reason.

            This WH would probably not mention VSE, ever. Of course not but the fact of the matter is that their policy, originally, was mostly the same. And that is what counts.

            I agree that this WH did not find traction in Congress. But worse to me. NASA was and still is dragging their feet kicking and screaming. And eventually there will be a price to pay. Remember that the first thing Obama wanted to do was to increase NASA’s budget! Increase! And they were all opposed. OPPOSED. They wanted a destination. The intangible nonsense proffered by some was simply unbelievable. Talk about shooting oneself in the foot.

            So the WH wants more money for NASA and NASA does not want it. They even use Congress to push for SLS/MPCV against their boss in the WH!!!!!! Try that in the industry and tell me how it goes.

            So let me ask you, why in hell would this WH, any WH, why would they help those idiots?

            Sometime sequestration feels about right. Sadly.

            • Hiram

              I think we’re largely in agreement. It’s true that the Marbergerism of bringing the solar system into our economic sphere was a bit vague, but what it expressed to me was at least a desire to have a credible rationale. This administration hasn’t expressed any such desire. Obama has been quoted as saying we’ve been to the Moon, so why go back. That’s a cheap offhand comment, not a well thought-out policy. If his policy is criticized for that comment, it’s because he’s never tried to say anything deeper. He’s a very smart and busy guy, but he’s largely uninterested in space.

              As to “Flexible Path” supporting “beyond”, let me put it this way. I keep gas in my car. I fill the tires, and change the oil. I learn how to drive in snow and ice. I listen for peculiar engine sounds, and track those down. Why? Because I want my car to be ready to go when I want it to go … beyond my house. But that’s not a vision. It’s not a hope or a dream. It’s just saying that I’ll be ready to do it when I figure out what I want to do.
              Obama hasn’t really told us what he wants the nation to do. He has, however, I believe, made a guesstimate about when we might put humans on Mars. That sort of implies that he wants humans to go to Mars. But has he said that explicitly? If so, has he explained why? I don’t think so. Our space exploration fate will come down to leadership, and leadership is about policy, rationale, and commitment. It’s not about dates or destinations.

              NASA didn’t want more money? No, that never happened. NASA is NEVER going to turn money away. Congress wanted a destination, and Congress kept the budgets level when the administration didn’t have one. I’m not aware that NASA is “using” Congress to push for SLS, except in that if NASA is told they have to do SLS, they’re sure going to push for the money to get it done right.

              I’ve said this many times before, and I’ll say it again. The topmost plane of space policy has to come from the administration. So if the administration doesn’t want to help those NASA idiots because they can’t develop credible policy, then that’s just not fair. Technologists, engineers, and scientists aren’t trained to make policy, and we shouldn’t expect them to do it.

              • Fred Willett

                I think we’re largely in agreement. It’s true that the Marbergerism of bringing the solar system into our economic sphere was a bit vague, but what it expressed to me was at least a desire to have a credible rationale. This administration hasn’t expressed any such desire.
                This is Obama summing up at the end of his Florida speech in 2010.
                Fifty years after the creation of NASA, our goal is no longer just a destination to reach. Our goal is the capacity for people to work and learn and operate and live safely beyond the Earth for extended periods of time, ultimately in ways that are more sustainable and even indefinite. And in fulfilling this task, we will not only extend humanity’s reach in space — we will strengthen America’s leadership here on Earth.
                Seems clear to me.

              • Hiram

                “This is Obama summing up at the end of his Florida speech in 2010.
                Fifty years after the creation of NASA, our goal is no longer just a destination to reach. Our goal is the capacity for people to work and learn and operate and live safely beyond the Earth for extended periods of time, ultimately in ways that are more sustainable and even indefinite. And in fulfilling this task, we will not only extend humanity’s reach in space — we will strengthen America’s leadership here on Earth.”

                So we’re doing that right now on ISS. And we’re going to keep doing it on ISS. That’s perfectly consistent with, as I said, a policy of just keeping on doing what we’re doing. It might be consistent with more ambitious policies, but that’s not explicit.

              • common sense

                “NASA didn’t want more money? No, that never happened. NASA is NEVER going to turn money away. Congress wanted a destination, and Congress kept the budgets level when the administration didn’t have one. I’m not aware that NASA is “using” Congress to push for SLS, except in that if NASA is told they have to do SLS, they’re sure going to push for the money to get it done right.”

                Circumstantial evidence may be but who refused to increase NASA’s budget? Whom do they represent? I stick to my comment.

                “I’ve said this many times before, and I’ll say it again. The topmost plane of space policy has to come from the administration. So if the administration doesn’t want to help those NASA idiots because they can’t develop credible policy, then that’s just not fair. Technologists, engineers, and scientists aren’t trained to make policy, and we shouldn’t expect them to do it.”

                I don’t agree. The WH gave the policy and not all sure but those in HSF at NASA opposed it. Hence SLS. Or do you actually believe that Congress came up with SLS design on their own? Really? AND NASA is not made of only “technologists, engineers, and scientists”. This is a lame excuse. Sorry. Leaders are supposed to enact policy and support policy makers at all levels. It is part of the job. Or they are just not leaders whatsoever. Politics in leadership is the basis of the leadership. Come on.

              • Hiram

                “The WH gave the policy and not all sure but those in HSF at NASA opposed it. Hence SLS. Or do you actually believe that Congress came up with SLS design on their own?”

                NASA certainly had people who were shedding tears over Ares V, and those people were free to develop “concepts”. There are always “concepts” around. The Senate turned that particular concept into a real project, and fired money at it with a firehose. NASA is an agency of the administration. If it were clear that NASA employees were lobbying for federal action in Congress, they’d be fired forthwith. You’re accusing NASA employees of what would be a federal offense. So sure, we can diplomatically presume that the Senate was helping to dry tears. Let’s just leave it at that. Aren’t they nice?

                “Leaders are supposed to enact policy and support policy makers at all levels”??? Wrong wrong wrong. Leaders are supposed to listen to policy advice from all levels, and they are entrusted to evaluate that advice and make decisions in the greater national interest. They are paid to convert advice about policy into real policy, and that real policy is defined as what serves national value. Technologists, engineers, scientists (and shall we add “managers”?), are simply not qualified to make decisions about national value and funding trades. I’m not going to ask a NASA employee to make a decision about whether SLS is more important than VA benefits, and neither are you.

                It is up to NASA to tell us how to get to Mars and what it might offer if we went. It is up to our leaders to tell us why we need to go.

              • common sense

                Well fine then. I assume Congress picked the SLS concept based on their own expertise. Congress actually knows the lofting capability for a LV that has no mission except to serve as a backup to commercial crew. I assume that Congress know how many segments make sense for the SRB/Ms. Yeah sure. And they picked those concepts out of where? Just randomly selected a pile of slides they found at MSFC or JSC some one had left unattended? I mean I am sure all is possible. A staffer may even be getting an advanced degree in aerospace and thought he would review and advise. No I mean I am probably wrong come to think of it.

                If you believe you become a leader and you will be devoid of politics, it’s probably cool too. Tell me where such things happen because I would like to apply. So like the head of the different directorates at NASA made it there because they are excellent engineers/technologists? I am impressed because I have worked in several organizations and I never saw that, ever. I am sure NASA is a safe haven for the gifted then. Cool.

              • Hiram

                Oh c’mon. Of course Congress picked the SLS concept based on their own expertise. You bet. Their own expertise told them that it was a project that would bring mammoth piles of dollars into their district and create lots of jobs. Their own expertise told them that a huge rocket would impress people. What more do they need? Well, they need an engineering concept — a flag to hold — and, as I said, there are concepts all over the place, ripe for the plucking. Go to any professional aerospace meeting and you’ll hear about a bunch. You don’t need any engineering sophistication to shoot a firehose of dollars at a big honking rocket project.

                Now, if Congress asks NASA for specific concepts, NASA is obligated to serve them up. So if Congress says “Hey NASA, we need a big honking expensive rocket that puts money into THIS district!”, NASA will provide concepts. They may do so with a big smile on their face. Heads of directorates are good at making such smiles, and for reassurances that the rocket could be built. But I caution you. If it is understood that those smiles were behind words advising that such rockets be built, in opposition to administration policy, those onetime heads of directorates will be selling pencils on the street.

                Who said leadership is devoid of politics? Not me. What I said was that leadership vetted policy on the basis of national value. If a big honking rocket is going to drop piles of cash in your district, that has value at least for a small chunk of the nation. That’s how politics works.

              • common sense

                “Oh c’mon. Of course Congress picked the SLS concept based on their own expertise. You bet. Their own expertise told them that it was a project that would bring mammoth piles of dollars into their district and create lots of jobs. Their own expertise told them that a huge rocket would impress people. What more do they need? Well, they need an engineering concept — a flag to hold — and, as I said, there are concepts all over the place, ripe for the plucking. Go to any professional aerospace meeting and you’ll hear about a bunch. You don’t need any engineering sophistication to shoot a firehose of dollars at a big honking rocket project.”

                Yeah. May be. And some people on Constellation were transitioning. As I said anything is possible.

                “Now, if Congress asks NASA for specific concepts, NASA is obligated to serve them up. So if Congress says “Hey NASA, we need a big honking expensive rocket that puts money into THIS district!”, NASA will provide concepts. They may do so with a big smile on their face. Heads of directorates are good at making such smiles, and for reassurances that the rocket could be built. But I caution you.”

                Funny I thought that NASA worked for the WH. I must have missed something.

                “If it is understood that those smiles were behind words advising that such rockets be built, in opposition to administration policy, those onetime heads of directorates will be selling pencils on the street.”

                I would say this. Watch.

                I wonder. Is the WH happy with NASA? If not, why not? But let’s wait for the next round of cuts see how the WH reacts.

    • James

      If shticking it to Obama is what that committee hearing was all about, I assume then part of the shticking strategy would be to cast light on how bad Obama’s space policy is.

      Except, I don’t think voters give a crap about space policy and how well or not Obama implements a space policy.

      If no one cares, then why bother shticking it to OBama on this issue.

      Now, shticking it to Obama on “Obama-care”; well that makes sense as it’s in the public domain as a hot topic.

      The Cx forces haven’t given up on a large big expensive space program run by the Government with their contractor minions in tow. They see an threat looming in commercial crew, and probably , through lobbying channels, with threats to withhold campaign contributions, had this hearing held to get their discussion back into the public domain.

      Last gasp effort so to speak.

      That’s one guess, because as Vladislaw points out above, when Elon is on his way to cis lunar with a Space X Astronaut, more pressure will be brought to bear on SLS/Orion to cancel the ‘rocket to nowhere’

  • amightywind

    It would have been nice if Lockheed Martin engineers testified. There were concerns about subjecting a 2 person crew to close quarters in the dual Orion configuration proposed for the 6 month Plymouth Rock mission profile. They’d be pretty skinny and dirty after 500 days in a single vehicle. A Mars flyby is neither feasible nor desirable by 2021. Nowadays we hear most from those who know least at NASA. In 2010 Obama proclaimed an asteroid to be the first exploration target. Has everyone forgotten that edict? How can you fund NASA for $17 billion without any plan?

  • josh

    nasa is simply incapable of doing this so the whole discussin is moot. they can’t do it. period. spacex can and will.

  • Egad

    I just looked at Gen. Lyles’ written testimony, and it contains some fairly meaty pieces that didn’t stand out in the oral version. Because I like and agree with the following snippets, I quote them:

    As the ASEB’s Space Technology Roadmaps study indicated, there are several high-priority technologies that require further development in categories such as radiation mitigation for human spaceflight, and environmental control and life support systems. The latter category includes air revitalization, water recovery and management, waste management, and habitation technologies. None of these technologies are currently mature enough to support a long-duration human spaceflight mission….

    NASA’s current long-term goal for human spaceflight is to send humans to Mars orbit sometime in the 2030s. The agency has started some projects that are aimed at making that possible, such as development of the Space Launch System and the Orion spacecraft. However, there are many other steps that NASA will have to take in order to be ready for such an ambitious goal. Tackling some of the technology tasks associated with keeping humans alive for long-duration spaceflight without external resupply (or a large internal supply of spare parts), are important goals if we are ever to send humans to Mars….

    But an important question that should be asked and answered is: if the goal is to develop long-duration human spaceflight capabilities, is a Mars flyby the best nearterm method for doing so? Such capabilities could be developed with a spacecraft that is sent to one of the LaGrange points, or orbits the Moon. In that case, if the astronauts encounter problems, they can easily return to Earth and will not have to wait hundreds of days for their orbit to return them….

    • vulture4

      Good points, in fact with the sole exception of radiation all this technology can be tested on ISS, where it will give a welcome break from unproductive microgravity science. Radiation shielding can be tested with subscale payloads assembled on ISS and send to high orbit with electric thrusters. The real long pole (as the DOD has also said) is vastly reducing launch cost. This can also be tested with new RLVs using ISS as a destination.

  • amightywind

    The Mars mission is an amusing diversion, but the elephant in the room in space politics is what do do about Russia, our enemy with whom we share a space station. Are we going to let Putin overrun Ukraine and pretend nothing happened?

    • Hiram

      “but the elephant in the room in space politics is what do do about Russia, our enemy with whom we share a space station …”

      If the elephant is in the living room, let’s not be too worried about the kitchen. Although I’d rather not let Putin in the kitchen, his space systems engineers and astronauts are still our friends and should be welcome there. ISS is one of the many collaborative activities that ground our friendship with Russia, and put some distance between us and the Cold War. It would hardly make a lot of sense to pull any plugs on that.

      Of course, there are elephants all over the place. The right strategy is to keep an eye open for real threats, and also watch where you’re stepping. American space program policy makers are used watching where they’re stepping, and even carrying shovels.

      But I have to agree that Mars2021 is an amusing diversion.

    • Hiram

      Oooh. I know. Let’s threaten the Russians with us leaving ISS. That’ll teach ‘em. Good way for us to show them how we can keep our feet firmly planted on the ground. Or maybe we can stop pretending about international participation in a Mars mission. In fact, did you realize that a large fraction of Russian cosmonauts are, in fact, from Ukraine? We should assert solidarity with them, and maybe help establish an independent Ukrainian republic in an ISS node. Gotta keep those elephants down.

    • What options do we have, that are relevant to this website?

      Currently Russia holds all the cards, where human access to ISS is concerned. To prevent this kind of political leverage, we really should start working on our own…

      …Oh golly, wait. That’s one of the things Commercial Crew is meant to address, isn’t it? Redundant, domestic human access to LEO. Too bad Congress never funded it as requested, it might now be significantly closer.

      But some people here have said that it’s unnecessary, that Soyuz is a proven design, etc…

  • guest

    NASA has an exploration plan. It simply is not too well defined.

    Right now we are building a rocket and capsule. They will be ready to carry people sometime in the early 2020s. The capsule is a bit heavy but we are crossing our fingers that the parachutes will still work ok.

    We hope to get to Mars by 2040. Flyby or landing is not defined.

    In between we will send our spacecraft around the moon. Not sure why we will circle the moon but it seems like the thing to do. On one of these missions we hope to engage a small asteroid, about the mass of the spaceraft. Not really sure why but in lieu of a Hubble telescope to visit, maybe it will be interesting. Its a pseudo destination.

    For missions longer than ten days, we will develop a new mission module. The module will be based on ISS modules, perhaps one of the left over ESA built losistics carriers. Or maybe it will be based on a Bigelow Transhab. Or maybe the entire configureation and module willl be designed for partial gravity. At the moment we really don’t know and we are not even researching which way. Its a part of the plan.

    Each of the Mars mission assemblies will be a little smalller than an ISS. We will build one every five years or so. There is not a plan to save anything from one two year mission to the next. Should there be?

    Yes, we have a plan and a vision.

    • Hiram

      Ha, ha. NASA has a plan, but it just not too well defined? We wouldn’t want to have it well defined, would we? Destinations don’t make a plan. Space enthusiasts seem to forget that. Destinations are part of some plan to bring real return to the nation, but they aren’t the return in and of itself. The unfortunate legacy of Apollo is that we’ve come to see destinations as being plans. Back then, as a justifiable stunt, the lunar landing was a good plan. Now, not to much. Look at what that plan left us with. Mostly happy memories.

    • James

      Does not sound like a plan that is a response to a policy. It sounds like a bunch of guys got together in a room and asked the question: So what can we do with this SLS/Orion?

      Obama has zero interest in creating an exploration policy; he has never wanted to say anything policy wise that NASA could latch onto to justify building large hardware systems. SLS/Orion don’t count because Obama didn’t want those, congress did.

      By hand waving a notional Mars landing date in the 2030 time frame, Obama ensured he could slowly cut NASA’s budget for educational purposes (in keeping with is 2007/2008 campaign promise)without NASA crying foul because such cuts would delay flight hardware systems developments that would then impact launch dates, landing dates, and other goals.

      By hand waving a notional Mars landing data, Obama gets to ‘win’ by showing he is committed to exploration (Got those Florida votes now!) w/o having to spend any real money on flight hardware systems (another win for his other budget priorities).

      Not going to the moon, via his “Been there done that” flip comment, keeps the moon out of discussion, and prevents NASA from pursuing flight hardware developments while Obama is president.

      Griffin gambled the having flight hardware built would protect Cx from being cancelled; thus is quick push for a crappy architecture and flight h/w systems development – and push for LRO to get off the ground in 4 years. He failed.

      There is no Exploration Policy for NASA.

      NASA: Chicken, wobbly, head chopped off, …..plop

  • zanderdad

    Putting aside everyone’s personal feelings about SLS, by what date does the rocket become economically inevitable? By which I mean, how far do we have to go down the development path having invested X before it would be considered a greater waste not to finish the rocket than to give up and do something else?

    Or do the operational costs render that equation meaningless?

    • James

      I’ ve no idea of the date, but the Shuttle program provides an example of what is to come if SLS/Orion does become reality

      Once the Shuttle was up and running and operational costs began to mature, and be understood, budget pressures (self induced by Goldin who loved to tell Congress to – “Cut my budget , please, so I can force change at NASA” because I’m such a crappy leader I cant’ get what I want any other way) had Code M managers look for ways to commercialize Shuttle operations costs. The best they could come up with was to consolidate all the various operations contracts JSC and KSC were managing into one large Shuttle Ops contract, which ULA won.

      That provides a template of what NASA has done in the past.

    • Coastal Ron

      zanderdad said:

      Putting aside everyone’s personal feelings about SLS, by what date does the rocket become economically inevitable?

      Being a government program, never.

      By which I mean, how far do we have to go down the development path having invested X before it would be considered a greater waste not to finish the rocket than to give up and do something else?

      If there were a whole host of customers that had funded payloads and missions that could only be launched by a 70-130mt launcher, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. But there aren’t. There isn’t even one at this point.

      Let’s remember that Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA’s Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, recently stated that the SLS would need to fly at least once per year to maintain a safe flight cadence. That cadence has to start in 2022, so we are 8 years away from when a steady stream of SLS flights has to start.

      So the real question is not whether the SLS will need to be finished in order to know if it won’t be cancelled, but how many years before 2022 it will be where it will become very apparent that there is NO NEED to finish the SLS, since there won’t be enough payloads to merit making the SLS operational and operate it safely.

      See what I mean?

    • Michael Kent

      “Let’s remember that Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA’s Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, recently stated that the SLS would need to fly at least once per year to maintain a safe flight cadence.”

      He said that. But the SLS requirements documents dictate a production rate of only one every two years. They can launch them three times in a year, but they can only build them one every other year.

      “Or do the operational costs render that equation meaningless?”

      SLS is projected to cost $1.5 billion each to build & launch, so the answer to that question is “yes.”

      Saturn V was flying once, but it proved too costly to continue. They didn’t even launch the last one, IIRC.

    • Fred Willett

      During the Augustine committee Jeff Greason said (I haven’t looked it up. I’ll just paraphrase) He said something like “if we were delivered the complete system for Christmas we would have to cancel it the next day because it’s simply unaffordable” He was talking about Constellation, but the same thing applies to SLS. The operating costs are slated to be too high to actually be usable in any meaning full way.

  • Robert G Oler

    thiese hearings are a somewhat stunning example of the attempts to simply keep the space industrial complex going at all cost.

    Along with what DBN pointed out…NASA could not even attempt this for under 50 billion dollars and more like 100 billion. and if they tried it, it would fail.

    completely goofy RGO

    • Gary Warburton

      So Robert if they don`t want to use the SLS to go to an astroid and they don`t want to use the SLS for a trip around Mars what is the purpose of the SLS? Is there any purpose at all for this congressional ordered monstrousity? Why are they building it? What was so urgent that it had to made uncancellable? What really needs to asked loudly in all the media around the country is: WHY ARE WE WASTING ALL THIS MONEY ON AN ARCHAIC ROCKET MONSTROUSITY, WHAT IS ITS PURPOSE?

      • Vladislaw

        to keep the lights on at 10 nasa centers, to keep the brooms being pushed and so every porkonaut in congress can have 10 engineers in their district to turn each nut and bolt… performance is not the issue, getting something actually built and flying is not an issue, just having a bunch of people standing around turn that bolt IS the issue.

      • Malmesbury

        “WHY ARE WE WASTING ALL THIS MONEY ON AN ARCHAIC ROCKET MONSTROUSITY, WHAT IS ITS PURPOSE?”

        It is about delivering money to Congressional and Senatorial districts.

        NASA was created to beat the Soviets. It was allowed to be created on the basis that it would provide high paying jobs in the South – Kennedy & Johnson’s Southern Strategy, if you like.

        To understand all of this, go back to how traditional Big Government contracts work. An idea is pitched. Some bidders come up. They are given some money to refine their bids, build prototypes etc. A winner is picked. *Then* a full program is voted on.

        That is how SLS/Orion is supposed to be. The legislators voting on SLS & Orion have thousands of pages of documents, detailing exactly where it will all be spent. The delicate trades as to who gets what, the steady piling up of the votes. Watch The West Wing for the idealized and bowdlerized version of how this is done.

        All this nonsense about the Moon and Mars is for the naive. Then again, the enthusiasts may actually get some crumbs – after the grown ups have taken care of the real business of the day.

      • Robert G Oler

        We are spending money on SLS and Orion to keep the lights on at various NASA centers, keep “private firms” who cannot produce a commercial product in business and to distribute federal money to mostly “red” states who without it would be poorer then they are now.

        there is no purpose for a rocket and capsule that are costing more then the shuttle system cost to develop and will only fly 1 time a year with payloads that no one can afford to develop.

        We are building SLS for the same reason we are building LCS…a ship the size of a WW2 destroyer escort for MOrE money then the Japanese are building a 13000 ton helicopter destroyer which is the size of a WW2 heavy cruiser. to keep the Industrial complexes in business. RGO

        • common sense

          “to distribute federal money to mostly “red” states who without it would be poorer then they are now”

          I have no problem with the concept.

          I have problem with wasting the money. Those States could do much more constructive things with the same money. I would even support it actually.

          I just don’t support waste. And SLS/MPCV is now a waste. Has been for some time.

          Oh well.

  • guest A

    “Once the Shuttle was up and running and operational costs began to mature, and be understood, budget pressures (self induced by Goldin who loved to tell Congress to – “Cut my budget , please, so I can force change at NASA” because I’m such a crappy leader I cant’ get what I want any other way)”

    From having worked on Shuttle, I would say that the contractors soaked NASA and the American people for everything they could get for as long as they could, and the lousy NASA management never made any changes, programatically, operationally, technical and configuration changes to the Orbiter that might have improved its capabilities…Operational costs remained high because NASA and contractors kept the workforce needlessly higher than it should have been.

    What we have to show for it today is a direct result.

    • Coastal Ron

      guest A said:

      From having worked on Shuttle, I would say that the contractors soaked NASA and the American people for everything they could get for as long as they could, and the lousy NASA management never made any changes…

      Nor did Congress care to look into what was going on with the Shuttle program. Once programs like the Shuttle get going they tend to get political inertia, where as long as they appear to be delivering results they enter the realm of “don’t cut my program and I won’t cut yours”.

      No doubt SLS supporters are hoping to get into the same position, but the lack of any missions and payloads for the SLS is their biggest barrier.

  • Finally found my muse to write a screed about this hearing, “Desperation Mars&rdquo::

    http://spaceksc.blogspot.com/2014/03/desperation-mars.html

    Credit to Rick Boozer if he’s out there for reminding me not to take these bozos too seriously.

    • You’re welcome, Stephen. For those who haven’t seen the latest episode of Spacevidcast, here is what Stephen is talking about: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=pSGn19OM_nA

      • Crash Davis

        In other words, drivel, lies, and misrepresentations from someone who is uniquely unqualified to comment on subject at hand and hosted by two SpaceX employees who are pining for continued future government subsidies.

        http://www.spaceflightinsider.com

        • Talk about “drivel, lies, and misrepresentations”. The article to which you refer attributes positions to me that I have never stated and don’t even have. It is so scurrilous and full of hyperbole that I am not going to dignify it with a detailed response. And the same applies to anything else you have to say on the matter here.

          • Vladislaw

            Not only that Rick ..but you can not make a post on spaceflightinsider unless you toe the mark I did a point by point and not a single post made it on the blog… apparently if you disagree your posts never show up.. only if you agree.

          • Neil Shipley

            Yep Vlad has it right. I’ve posted on both sites that Jason Rhian apparently ‘moderates’ and have had posts deleted but if I question the status quo in the slightest they’re never published.

    • Vladislaw

      Boy you two sure managed to cause a stir when I posted your stuff on some of my facebook pages… LOL … The status quo sure has sensitive skin when it comes to pointing at that 800 pound gorilla that is camped out in the living room at NASA central. Doesn’t matter how you try to point out the economics of NASA by congressional decree is just not working, will not help create a viable and sustainable transportation system capable of opening up the space frontier, much less getting us BEO.

      • Vladislaw wrote:

        The status quo sure has sensitive skin when it comes to pointing at that 800 pound gorilla that is camped out in the living room at NASA central.

        Sure wish I could read some of those responses. :-)

        To quote Hillary Clinton talking about another subject, some people refuse to live in a reality-based world. A lot of them grew up on Apollo and think that’s the only way to do it. Apollo was a fluke in the flow of historical events and won’t happen again.

  • Hiram

    This is well written. Thank you.

    It should be understood that while Apollo was a stunt, it was a justifiable stunt. Those were the days when Americans were building bomb shelters in response to what was perceived as Soviet missle and space exceptionalism. But that rationale for prestige no longer exists as a geopolitical need.

    But the question “what will the astronauts do?” is singularly important. Yes, they’ll look out the window, just like Evel Kneivel would do as he was launched over the Snake River Canyon. Oh yes. They’d inspire generations of kids to want to look out the window as they flew purposelessly to Mars as well.

    “Desperation Mars” is a perfect title for this. That’s exactly what’s going on here. Tito was hardly desperate, but Congress, looking woefully at an SLS they inflicted on NASA that has no compelling rationale, is very much so.

    • Ben Russell-Gough

      “What will the astronauts do?” was a justifiable question for Inspiration Mars. The whole point of Tito’s vision was that he felt proving it was possible for humans to survive so long in space and travel so far would be a kick of the pants in interest for science, technology and engineering. It would prove (to quote the political catch-phrase) “yes, we can”. However, as far as “what will they do” goes, not much except survive (including maintaining the shipboard systems) and prove that they can survive.

      A larger scale NASA-operated flyby would necessarily be different. There would be tons of biomedical experiments possible as well as monitoring of the ship’s conditions and state. There won’t be any footprints and flags, but those two hours at Mars and a similar period at Venus would be very, very busy using remote sensors and their cameras to capture as much data as they possibly can.

      Would it be worthwhile? Well, I have to admit that I buy into the ‘inspiration’ argument. Maybe the people of Earth could be persuaded to look away from reality TV and the bottom line by someone doing something really unprecedented. Maybe they could be persuaded to believe and actually work constructively again.

  • Hiram

    “There won’t be any footprints and flags, but those two hours at Mars and a similar period at Venus would be very, very busy using remote sensors and their cameras to capture as much data as they possibly can.”

    I beg to disagree. Astronauts controlling “remote sensors and their cameras” won’t accomplish any more than we now do with humans on Earth controlling remote sensors and cameras on Mars-orbiting craft. Seriously. What exactly is a human going to snap a picture of that MRO can’t? Ever wonder why Earth science isn’t flinging people into orbit to research terrestrial processes? Nope. ISS astronauts are not spending time learning about the Earth.

    Now, your description is carefully nuanced. Yes, the astronauts WILL be very very busy using remote sensors and their cameras to capture as much data as they possibly can. But will it be NEW data? Will that data reveal things that MRO and the like won’t reveal? Will they be doing science, or just going through the motions of doing science? I think the latter.

    As to responsible biomedical experiments, I wholly agree. The effect of long-term deep space exposure to astronauts will be very well researched in a NASA mission. Of course, they don’t need to go to Mars to do that, do they? Except perhaps the psychological impact of seeing Earth get very very small.

    I don’t think the kind of inspiration that we want to achieve is really best inspired by doing things that don’t have clear purpose and return. Did Evel Knievel inspire people to do daredevil motorcycle stunts? Yes, probably. So where does that leave us? I’d like to believe that inspiration-wise, there is a lot more besides reality TV and a trip around Mars. You really think that people don’t “believe” or “work constructively” any more? Hah. What hole are you living in?

    • Ben Russell-Gough

      You’ve missed the point, Hiram, the science isn’t the point and never has been. The point is and always has been about proving that humans can do it. That’s why “sustainable” is meaningless because it’s meant to be a one-off stunt to prove that the way to Mars is open.

      You and I both know that it would be possible to get the same meaningful scientific results from a mission in a LaGrange halo orbit. What that wouldn’t give is those amazing few hours with humans staring down on another world with their unaided eyes.

      I think you underestimate the positive impact on the human psyche that those few hours would generate.

      • Hiram

        “The point is and always has been about proving that humans can do it.”

        But what you said, at least about the NASA version of this mission, was how hard the astronauts would be working on data collection. You said that. Oh, I get it. They need to prove that humans can go through the motions of doing science at Mars. Yep, they’ll probably do that.

        I agree that proving that humans can do it is what the real point seems to be. That doesn’t make it a point worth federal and taxpayer investment. What other federal investment is fundamentally about proving that humans can do it? Proving that you can do it is simply a stunt. Some stunts are useful. Apollo was a geopolitically useful stunt. It reassured our citizens who were being gravely threatened by Soviet space and missle capabilities. Mars2021 is not. Let’s be honest. What Mars2021 is really all about is proving that we can complete the SLS. Because at least Pace and Cooke believe quite firmly that development of cis-lunar space is what counts in the near term. Not going to Mars. That’s what they say. Deep down, and well camouflaged, they know perfectly well that we won’t end up making this trip, because it’s going to take a lot more than SLS to do it. But it would make their SLS happen promptly.

        As to positive impacts on the human psyche, the positivity of it is unarguable. The value of it (as in positivity per unit dollar) is not. I think it’s sorta cool that people could gaze down on Mars with their unaided eyes, but it’s sorta cool to gaze on lots of stuff with your unaided eye. Is this some kind of celebration of unaided eyes? Hey, I can go out at night and see Mars with my unaided eye! I can block it out with my unaided pinky finger. When these astronauts come back, they’ll get parades, and visits to national leaders, and book contracts. They will expound on the trip and the view. But at some point, someone will ask the question .. but, what did they DO? What did they even demonstrate that is really important to the nation? Is this really what we have to do to prove that we’re any good?

        No, I don’t want my taxpayer dollars to provide a few hours of amazing staring to someone elses unaided eyes. Is my investment in ISS done in order to let astronauts do amazing staring in the coupola? No. That’s cool, but that’s not the reason for doing ISS. When coolness metamorphoses into rationale, you’re sunk.

      • Ben Russell-Gough wrote:

        The point is and always has been about proving that humans can do it.

        We proved in 1969 we could put a man on the Moon.

        It quickly came to an end thereafter.

        A stunt does not create a viable and sustainable spacefaring culture. Apollo is a prime example.

        I think you underestimate the positive impact on the human psyche that those few hours would generate.

        Do you have any actual data to support that? Because pretty much every poll in the last half-century shows that the majority of Americans don’t care much about the space program.

        As I documented in my column, during the 1960s polls consistently showed that a majority of Americans thought Apollo was a waste of time and money.

        • Ben Russell-Gough

          The 1960s to the 1980s represented one of the fastest growths in the human technological base in history. I’m not claiming that the space program was the sole cause, but it made a whole generation believe that wonders were possible. These days, that belief is mostly gone.

          • common sense

            “These days, that belief is mostly gone.”

            This is total nonsense.

            Furthermore when Henry Ford came up with the Model T people were in awe. Those days are gone. So???? So??? Yeah the 60s are gone for good, just like the 70s, 80s, 90s…

            If you believe that this is what people want or need today is the same as what it was in the 60s how will you make any progress?

            Darn.

          • Hiram

            “I’m not claiming that the space program was the sole cause …”

            That’s good. It was probably mostly competition with the USSR, and the real threats that we felt from them that spurred a fervor of technology advancement. That competitive inspiration happened conspicuously on far more technological fronts than human spaceflight. It’s delusional to think otherwise. Sort of a fairy tale, really, except perhaps for aerospace professionals.

            I recall several technological pioneers of that era being asked about their main professional inspiration, and human space flight/Apollo didn’t come up. It’s pretty striking, really.

            Not at all clear that rapid technological advancement stopped in the 1980s when Apollo was gone, did it? You live in another dimension if you live in a world where wonders are no longer possible. But I guess our ISS and Shuttle astronauts inspired desktop supercomputers, the internet, and smart phones as well as a host of biomedical innovations. Tip o’ the helmet to those folks. Now, the Soviet threat was gone by then, so there must be some other forces that spur rapid technological advancement.

          • I asked you for any data to back up your claims. You provided none. I’ll conclude it doesn’t exist.

  • Malmesbury

    “I beg to disagree. Astronauts controlling “remote sensors and their cameras” won’t accomplish any more than we now do with humans on Earth controlling remote sensors and cameras on Mars-orbiting craft.”

    In fact it was proven in the 1960s that unmanned is better for orbital recon. That’s why MOL was cancelled. Astronauts add lots of vibration which screws up fine sensors.

    If you want more detailed knowledge of Mars from orbit, it would be cheaper and better to send one of the NRO mirror sets – a KH-11 in all but name. For radar surveys, similar…

    Humans are good at the hands on stuff.

    • Hiram

      “Astronauts add lots of vibration which screws up fine sensors.”

      Exactly right. You know, in the olden days, the military envisioned humans on a space station, stool pulled up to the telescope eyepiece, spying on our enemies. Fortunately, they reconsidered. But I guess robotic cameras don’t produce a “positive impact on the human psyche”. Handheld cameras do (although they take pretty crummy pictures.)

      Astronauts also add enormously … to the mission cost.

  • common sense

    “NASA didn’t want more money? No, that never happened. NASA is NEVER going to turn money away. Congress wanted a destination, and Congress kept the budgets level when the administration didn’t have one. I’m not aware that NASA is “using” Congress to push for SLS, except in that if NASA is told they have to do SLS, they’re sure going to push for the money to get it done right.”

    Circumstantial evidence may be but who refused to increase NASA’s budget? Whom do they represent? I stick to my comment.

    “I’ve said this many times before, and I’ll say it again. The topmost plane of space policy has to come from the administration. So if the administration doesn’t want to help those NASA idiots because they can’t develop credible policy, then that’s just not fair. Technologists, engineers, and scientists aren’t trained to make policy, and we shouldn’t expect them to do it.”

    I don’t agree. The WH gave the policy and not all sure but those in HSF at NASA opposed it. Hence SLS. Or do you actually believe that Congress came up with SLS design on their own? Really? AND NASA is not made of only “technologists, engineers, and scientists”. This is a lame excuse. Sorry. Leaders are supposed to enact policy and support policy makers at all levels. It is part of the job. Or they are just not leaders whatsoever. Politics in leadership is the basis of the leadership. Come on.

  • Paul Snyder

    Hmmmm…Nautilus-X? Not a reply, just a thought.

  • Asteroid retrieval is still the most pragmatic and inspirational plan out there.

    Enabling technologies for the business argument to space access rather than boot and flags for that once in a life time experience.

    • Neil Shipley

      That’s a big NO. It beggars belief that serious people can actually put up this sort of plan without thinking through the technical details and even a rational justification. Actually that’s most of the problem, it’s not a plan, just a thought bubble.

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