Congress, NASA

Congressional skepticism of NASA’s asteroid plans remains

Nearly a year ago, NASA announced its plans to redirect an asteroid into lunar orbit to be visited by astronauts, a concept originally called the Asteroid Retrieval Mission and now known as the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM). In the months that followed, the proposed mission received a chilly reception on Capitol Hill, particularly in the House. A NASA authorization bill approved by the House Science Committee last summer would have forbid NASA from spending any funds on the ARM and required it to submit budget, technical and other details about the mission.

This past week, NASA held an “Asteroid Initiative Opportunities Forum” to discuss the agency’s overall asteroid initiative, the current status of ARM planning, and details about a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) it released earlier this month seeking proposals in five key technical areas associated with the ARM. That work is supporting a Mission Concept Review planned for early 2015 that will make key decisions about the mission architecture. NASA associate administrator Robert Lightfoot said at the forum that he was confident that this review would create a mission with a cost about half, or even less, than the $2.6-billion estimated cost of a similar asteroid redirect mission in the final report of a study two years ago by the Keck Institute for Space Studies at Caltech.

However, those details aren’t enough to satisfy some members of Congress, who remain skeptical of the overall ARM concept. “The White House’s proposed Asteroid Retrieval Mission is a mission without a budget, without a destination, and without a launch date,” said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House Science Committee, in his opening statement Wednesday in a hearing on the administration’s overall budget proposal for science agencies. Smith said he preferred a “certain, near-term, realizable goal” for human spaceflight, in particular the Mars 2021 mission flyby concept proposed by Inspiration Mars.

Later, in the question-and-answer session with Office of Science and Technology Policy direct John Holdren, Smith brought up again NASA’s asteroid plans, citing the late 2012 report by the National Academies that concluded there was little support for NASA’s plans for sending humans to a near Earth asteroid by 2025 (a report completed before NASA announced the ARM concept), as well as criticism of the ARM itself by the NASA Advisory Council last year. “The asteroid mission has been reformulated and better explained” since the National Academies report, Holdren argued, “and now has strong buy-in.”

Smith cut Holdren off. “They still don’t have a budget, they still don’t have an asteroid, and they still don’t have a launch date. That doesn’t sound to me like a very serious program.”

At the hearing the next day about the NASA budget, Smith again brought up the ARM, raising doubts about its relevance to long-term space exploration and asking if NASA was formally studying the Mars 2021 flyby mission concept. Bolden said NASA was reviewing the Inspiration Mars mission concept report, but not doing anything more formal.

Smith also mentioned comments made at a hearing last May by the committee’s space subcommittee, where NASA Advisory Council chairman Steve Squyres questioned the relevance of the ARM towards supporting NASA’s long-term Mars exploration plans. “I think if you talked to Steve Squyres today, because of where we are, the maturity—” Bolden started to respond.

“I don’t doubt you could put political pressure on him,” Smith interjected, something that Bolden denied. “As far as I’m concerned, his testimony before the committee stands,” Smith concluded.

Earlier this month, it appeared that one previous congressional critic of the ARM had undergone a change of heart. Speaking at the Maryland Space Business Roundtable on March 18, Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD), ranking member of the House Science Committee’s space subcommittee, said that after hearing Bolden give a “riveting” description of the ARM concept to students, she texted him, saying she was “mesmerized” by that description was now a supporter of it, Space News reported.

However, at Thursday’s hearing on NASA’s budget, she walked back some of those comments. “While I paid the NASA administrator a compliment for his passionate and lucid explanation of the Asteroid Redirect Mission to a group of students recently,” she said in her opening remarks, “I continue to have questions about this potential mission and how it would contribute relative to other potential missions to enable the goal of sending humans to the surface of Mars.”

108 comments to Congressional skepticism of NASA’s asteroid plans remains

  • James

    Lightfoot: ” NASA associate administrator Robert Lightfoot said at the forum that he was confident that this review would create a mission with a cost about half, or even less, than the $2.6-billion estimated cost of a similar asteroid redirect mission ”

    No way. a $1B mission cap leaves about $350M worth of hardware. So, a $1.3B mission cap leaves about what, $400M? No way an ARM is going to build all this new high tech hardware systems for that. Guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

    On top of that, I’m sure Bolden will make sure each NASA Center has a piece of the pie, which will further drive up costs dealing with all the dysfunction that exists between Centers.

    Speaking of which,,,does anyone know what the Assignments are for this mission? Who is going to lead, build the capture/chisel mechanisms, etc?

  • Robert G Oler

    its only “plus” is that it is a make work mission for SLS/Orion and the astronaut corps that is sort of kind of affordable. RGO

    • The astronaut corp has no interest in visiting tiny rocks imported into cis-lunar space. They want to go to the Moon.

      Lori Garver Questioned Astronauts about NASA’s Next Destination?

      http://newpapyrusmagazine.blogspot.com/2014/01/lori-garver-questioned-astronauts-about.html

      Where Do We Go From Here?

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/clayton-anderson/where-do-we-go-from-here_3_b_4495029.html

      Report: NASA Astronauts Oppose Obama Asteroid Mission
      Prefer a Return to the Moon Instead

      http://voices.yahoo.com/report-nasa-astronauts-oppose-obama-asteroid-mission-12479022.html?cat=15#new_comment_area

      Marcel

      • Bob

        “The astronaut corp [sic] has no interest in visiting tiny rocks imported into cis-lunar space. They want to go to the Moon.”

        It’s overly simplistic to assume the dozens of astronauts currently as NASA speak with one mind. And, if they don’t want to go to the Moon, the recent astronaut application round would seem to argue that there’s plenty of qualified people who want to join the corps, at least some of whom would probably be happy to “settle” with a first-ever trip to an asteroid.

      • Jim Nobles

        Marcel said, “The astronaut corp has no interest in visiting tiny rocks imported into cis-lunar space. They want to go to the Moon.”

        Congress is not going to pay for any manned trip to the moon. Are you completely unaware of the real world around you?

        I doubt they’ll even pay for ARM. This is the SLS supporters’ last chance to find a mission for SLS that congress might actually pay for. I actually don’t think it’s going to happen. Oh well, it will make SLS easier to cancel when the time comes.
        .

      • Vladislaw

        They are government employees, if they do not want to fly to an asteroid they can quit. There are plenty of people who would take their place.

      • Robert G Oler

        Marcel Does that mean that they wont do anything else?

        Fine then they can leave get real jobs and other people will take their place. If they dont want the mission then Bye bye

        You have an astronaut fetish RGO

      • Robert G Oler

        who cares what the astronauts think, if they wont go on the mission, they can get real jobs and see how that works for them RGO

      • Hiram

        If the astronauts aren’t interested in visiting tiny rocks, we have machines that will gladly step up to the plate. OSIRIS-ReX and Rosetta/Philae have their hands held up high!

        What the Apollo program created was a religion of astronaut worship. They, of course, have “the right stuff” and, as a result, should determine what our goals are in space, no? No doubt astronauts want to go to the Moon, because the Moon is where the prophets of this religion got originally baptised. It takes immersion in dust. OK, I guess just smudging your forehead with lunar dust would do the trick. But getting air pumped out of your environs and floating upside down doesn’t do it, you see!

    • E.P. Grondine

      Hi RGO –

      Well, the biggest plus is finding all of the dangerous pieces of s**t from space well before they hit us and kill large numbers of people. If the Chelyabinsk impactor had of come in over Denver, the current GM hearing would look like small beans.

      (It looks to me like the “corporate veil” is going to be penetrated here with criminal charges coming down the pike.)

      The other ARM plus is that it will develop and test the first true “spaceship”.

  • James

    And the only reason Edwards has softened her position is because her pet Center, Goddard, is going to have a real tough road the next few years, and she probably sees ARM as a way to ‘help the cause’ of her re-election campaign.

    • Bob

      MD-4 is pretty solidly blue: Edwards has been winning her elections with 75+% of the vote. Short of Goddard closing entirely, which is not in the cards, what happens there won’t help or hurt her reelection odds very much.

  • vulture4

    The ARM as is stands does not make much sense but the unmanned portion would provide a fairly capable solar electric propulsion system and the asteroid could be brought back to the ISS where it could be studied far more easily, and the left-overs could be used for radiation shielding around the modules.

  • The deposition of meteoroids or small asteroids within cis-lunar space could provide fuel, mass shielding, water, and carbon for future space stations and interplanetary vehicles. And this should probably be done using lightsails, IMO.

    But you don’t need the SLS to move these tiny objects into cis-lunar space. And you don’t need the SLS to extract material from these objects once they are deposited in cis-lunar space. Wasting tax payer dollars having a manned SLS visit to a tiny imported rock makes absolutely no sense.

    There are plenty of useful things for the SLS to do in the 2020s. This is not one of them!

    Marcel F. Williams

    • Hiram

      Yes, a human visit to a rock makes no sense at all, whether the rock is imported or not. ARM is where feasibility trumps rationale. It’s not about doing something useful, but rather how it’s possible to do anything at all, and the laughable proposition that touching a rock constitutes exploration.

      It’s amusing how NASA’s new line is that ARM provides “the first steps to Mars” (they’ve pretty much given up on science and protection as rationale for ARM). There was a slide with that title shown at the Asteroid Initiative Opportunities Forum last week listing a range of capabilities needed by a Mars visit that ARM would serve. But NONE of those capabilities required a rock. Not a single one. In fact, some of those capabilities (e.g. SEP for cargo) is something that doing it with uncooperative target like a rock greatly complicates.

      Yes, there are plenty of useful things an SLS can do in the 2020s. Unfortunately, we won’t be able to afford to do any of them.

    • Coastal Ron

      Fir Marcel F. Williams said:

      But you don’t need the SLS to move these tiny objects into cis-lunar space. And you don’t need the SLS to extract material from these objects once they are deposited in cis-lunar space.

      Then he said:

      There are plenty of useful things for the SLS to do in the 2020s.

      Apparently not, since the ARM has been the ONLY mission talked about in Congress that would use the SLS.

      In fact I chuckle whenever you diss the ARM, since that helps to ensure that the SLS will finally be cancelled for lack of funded need. Keep it up… ;-)

  • amightywind

    “The asteroid mission has been reformulated and better explained” since the National Academies report, Holdren argued, “and now has strong buy-in.”

    The pattern of these leftists is familiar. They hatch quixotic programs among themselves, turn a tin ear to congressional and public opinion, then aggressively market the them in the face of total rejection. Health care, climate change, immigration, defense, and space policy. The pattern has been the same.

  • Grandpa Dave

    Why are there no plans to go back to the moon? Years ago 12 Americans walked on the moon. Why not go back with a mission to colonize the moon? IMHO, the late Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan had the ideas that made since. But when Buzz Aldrin (aka Buzz Light-year) makes a state that “he’s been there and done that” is being self-centered and arrogant.

    • Coastal Ron

      Grandpa Dave said:

      Why are there no plans to go back to the moon?

      A lack of money, no doubt partially affected by the lack of affordable transportation systems, which the SLS does not address in any way.

      Why not go back with a mission to colonize the moon?

      The acknowledged goal is Mars, not the Moon. At most the airless Moon is just a stopping point along the way, or a mining location in the future. Not the place we’ll focus on for the 2nd place in the universe where humans live.

      But when Buzz Aldrin (aka Buzz Light-year) makes a state that “he’s been there and done that” is being self-centered and arrogant.

      No, it means he’s right. He was there, he did do that. And the U.S. has been to the Moon six times. Statements of fact.

      Now maybe you think NASA should transform into a mining organization, or a learn how to build and operate hotels. But that’s not what NASA was set up to do.

      If you think American tax money should be used to return to the Moon for some reason, then you better learn how to do a better job convincing people why it’s such a good idea. Oh, and people don’t respond to whiners, so you better change your attitude.

    • Hiram

      “Why are there no plans to go back to the moon?”

      Pretty simple, really. A trip for the sake of a trip doesn’t mean anything anymore. It did then, it doesn’t now. No self-centrism or arrogance. Just the truth. It is quite noble of Buzz Aldrin to be able to see that what was, in his time, a profoundly meaningful thing to do, simply isn’t for anyone to do again. Most Apollo astronauts can’t seem to get past that. They feel that their glory and reputation depends on doing again what they can say they blazed the trail for.

      As to lunar colonization, there are no plans to do it (at least by NASA), because our nation has not declared lunar colonization to be any priority, or even something useful to do. Go visit your congressional representative, hold your breath, and pound your fist on the table if it means that much to you that the American taxpayer should be responsible for such a thing. Many “lunatics” declare that the American taxpayer should be responsible for such a thing (and preach about self-centrism and arrogance in others), but that’s not the same thing.

      Now we’re looking ahead to a generation of astronauts that will first touch an asteroid, and feel that their glory and reputation will depend on future generations wanting to touch asteroids.

    • Grandpa Dave

      Looks like I hit a nerve with at least two opinioned fellows on here. Does everyone else on this blog-site agree with NASAs current manned space exploration? Constellations Ares I would be taking American astronauts to the ISS by now and Ares V would be well into development and testing.

      • Jim Nobles

        Grandpa Dave said, “Constellations Ares I would be taking American astronauts to the ISS by now and Ares V would be well into development and testing.”

        No it wouldn’t. Constellation was way, way behind schedule and the Augustine Commission found it wouldn’t be viable given the budgets NASA was getting. The President declined to ask for funds to continue it and the congress agreed. Thus it became history. Thankfully.

        President Obama got credit for cancelling Constellation but it was basically dead when he took office. He just signed the Death Certificate. Those of us who actually follow these things were not surprised.

      • Grandpa Dave wrote:

        Constellations Ares I would be taking American astronauts to the ISS by now and Ares V would be well into development and testing.

        Boy, do you have your facts wrong.

        Ares I wasn’t going to fly until 2017 at the earliest, and it was going to be funded by shutting down the ISS in 2015. Ares I had nowhere to go. These are all basic facts that everyone paying attention for the last five years recognizes.

        Ares V existed only on paper. It wasn’t going to fly until at least 2028, and it had no lunar lander so it couldn’t return astronauts to the Moon or anywhere else.

        Constellation was a pork program funded by the Bush administration and Congress only enough to keep a certain number of people employed with key aerospace contractors. It was never intended to actually do anything, despite what President Bush said on January 14, 2004. When NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe presented the details two weeks later to the Senate Science Committee, it was clear the funding wouldn’t be there to do what Bush wanted. John McCain called them out on it in the first five minutes of the hearing.

        The dumbest part of Bush’s Vision for Space Exploration was to complete the ISS only to then splash it into the ocean. Ares I would maybe go to ISS for one year before it was decommissioned, under Bush’s VSE. But it fell so far behind due to a lack of funding and bad design decisions under Michael Griffin that by 2009 the earliest a real Ares I would fly was 2017 — two years after the death of ISS.

        • Jim Nobles

          Stephen said, “Constellation was a pork program funded by the Bush administration and Congress…”

          I was not a fan of George W. when he was president but I feel I should say something in his defense. The VSE his administration produced was not that bad IMO. I think it was twisted and ruined by a certain NASA Administrator. George W. has been spoken ill of because he didn’t fight for more money for the “vision” but I don’t believe it would have mattered once Mr. G. got ahold of the program. Also, like all presidents to date George W. was not a space cadet and only took the advice of those he hired to advise him. And IMO, when it came to the U.S. space program, those advisors were completely lame.

          Sorry, just my $.02.

          • Hiram

            “The VSE his administration produced was not that bad IMO. ”

            I think that’s a fair assessment. VSE was an overriding plan that was VASTLY better than any previous administration had ever produced. It was a real “vision”. It attempted to put space exploration in the real context of national pride and accomplishment. It tried to define value in it. Kudos to John Marburger (RIP) for creating it, and I guess kudos to W for bringing a smart guy like Marburger in to do it. It is a real shame that the Obama administration hasn’t challenged itself to do something like that. The oft-cited complaint that Obama hates space exploration isn’t true because he doesn’t want us to go back to the Moon, or because he pulled the plug on Constellation, but that he won’t even try to develop a compelling vision for space exploration. His “vision”, such as it is, is where he tosses off informal remarks about asteroids, Mars, and smiling at astronauts as a kid, and NASA shapes those blatherings into national policy. At least Marburger was a physicist, and had a more technical and engineering perspective on space exploration than Bolden does.

            I really had hoped that Lori Garver would put some energy into an Obama-era VSE, but she didn’t do it. She had the right stuff to do it. I have to wonder if she even tried.

            • Jim Nobles

              Hiram said, “I really had hoped that Lori Garver would put some energy into an Obama-era VSE, but she didn’t do it.”

              I think she did what she could. There’s no way Bronco could have proposed some kind of major program like a return to the moon. The republicans would have laughed him off the stage. Most democrats wouldn’t have supported the idea either even though they might not have spoken against it openly.

              I know that when I first heard of the new plan, formalizing the death of Constellation, putting money into research for new technology, and promoting commercial, I was aghast. It wasn’t until I had thought about it for awhile that I realized that the “plan” was simply an acknowledgment of reality. A new BEO manned program was not in the cards politically, the support in the Congress and the Senate simply wasn’t and isn’t there. The best thing that could be done was try and put money into the research and try and put money into getting commercial up to speed.

              They made Mars the longer term goal thus putting it far enough in the future so that some other president can decide to do it or not as political conditions change. A sustained manned lunar program was not going to happen. No support from the money people.

              Remember, Lori Garver is a Space Cadet. If she thought a manned lunar program could happen she’d support it. Even if just to get the rockets and other technology developed. I came to believe that the approach NASA and Bronco took was about the best they could take and hope to succeed with. There is no sense in being upset because the Administration didn’t call for a manned lunar program when any observant space enthusiast could plainly see that the Congress won’t go along.

              To my mind there are two types of Space Cadets, regular Space Cadets and Sober Space Cadets. Space Cadets call for and holler about whatever aspect of space exploration has their interest. Sober Space Cadets try to understand all the real-world factors and then decide what they think would be the best course given the reality of the situation. I was a Space Cadet but now I consider myself a Sober Space Cadet and try to approach the situation from that perspective.

              Thank you for your indulgence.
              .

          • Jim Nobles wrote:

            George W. has been spoken ill of because he didn’t fight for more money for the “vision” but I don’t believe it would have mattered once Mr. G. got ahold of the program.

            I agree with the decision to cancel the Shuttle. It was “a complex and risky system” to quote CAIB.

            I would have been happy with VSE if he’d been honest about the cost. Great speech, but when Sean O’Keefe appeared before the Senate Science Committee two weeks later he made it clear the Bush administration would ask for no new significant funding to pay for Constellation.

            I posted the video of that hearing on YouTube two years ago because I wanted everyone to understand that Constellation’s failure was baked into the cake from the very beginning:

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ub2tdhyNwDk

            John McCain, who chaired the committee, called out the lack of funding in his opening remarks five minutes into the hearing.

            The “Vision Sand Chart” as it came to be known can be viewed here:

            http://history.nasa.gov/sepbudgetchart.pdf

            Again, from the beginning, there was a four-year gap between retirement of Shuttle and the Crew Exploration Vehicle. The CEV would fly to ISS for one year before ISS would be decommissioned to pay for Constellation. The U.S. taxpayer was going to spend the next six years (2004-2010) paying to complete a space station that would be splashed into the ocean five years later.

            The purpose of the ISS was to become a target for CEV. Really?! $100 billion for one-year target practice?!

            People overlook that today’s commercial space program was in VSE from the beginning. It wasn’t part of the speech, and it wasn’t discussed in the hearing, but it was there in the VSE document that went to Congress in February 2004:

            http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/55583main_vision_space_exploration2.pdf

            It was the Bush-appointed Aldridge Commission report in June 2004 that expanded on the idea, suggesting the Centennial Challenge be super-sized to create “a robust space industry.”

            In my opinion, Bush’s VSE was a political response to the CAIB findings. CAIB repeatedly criticized the lack of a national “vision” for NASA, so Bush called his proposal the Vision for Space Exploration. He provided a “vision.” He didn’t provide the funding. And Congress wasn’t inclined to give it to him.

            But he did retire the Shuttle as soon as practical, and he inadvertently gave birth to NewSpace.

            • Coastal Ron

              Stephen C. Smith said:

              I would have been happy with VSE if he’d been honest about the cost. Great speech, but when Sean O’Keefe appeared before the Senate Science Committee two weeks later he made it clear the Bush administration would ask for no new significant funding to pay for Constellation.

              Great summary of the actual facts Stephen.

              And I think you hit on a good point, which is that there is an overall desire to do things in space, but not at any cost, and certainly not by hiding the actual cost. Rewarding program officials and politicians who hide the real cost of things by increasing the funding is not a strategy that can be sustained – we can’t reward lying and ineptness.

              But he did retire the Shuttle as soon as practical, and he inadvertently gave birth to NewSpace.

              And even more good will happen when the SLS and MPCV programs are cancelled and NASA is allowed to contract for services instead of being forced to operate their own hardware because of political considerations.

      • amightywind

        No Dave. Constellation was a great program, sabotaged like many other things by Obama’s Bolsheviks.

        • Hiram

          “Bolshevik”, of course, means “majority” in Russian. Yep, it took a majority to elect Obama, and a majority in Congress to eventually pull the rug out from under a fiscally unimplementable Constellation on Obama’s recommendation. Of course, as we all know, the fiscal unimplementability of Constellation was the legacy of Bush-era budgets and a Bush appointee who was spending the appropriated funds. Obama just finished the job. Bush (a co-Bolshevik, I guess) was too busy sabotaging the economy to devote enough fiscal attention to Constellation.

          Where was Congressional skepticism when we really needed it!

          • Reality Bits

            Don’t argue with Comrade Windy, he is clutching onto his glorious five-year-plan for a centrally-managed “Rocket to Nowhere in Particular”.
            He keeps muttering “We will bury SpaceX!” whilest banging his shoe on the table.

        • Fred Willett

          Sally Ride looking at the figures for Constellation from the Aerospace Corp
          “So you have a heavy lift vehicle in 2028 but absolutely nothing to put in it…. so it’s back to Norm’s basic message. If you want to do something you have to have the money to do it.
          This chart and actually several as we started doing a lot of runs on a lot of these different scenerios we kept comming up with a common theme which was this budget
          (N.B. Presidents 2010 budget ) is very very very hard to fit and still have an exploration program. In fact we are still looking for an existence proof that we can actually find one.”
          Since then the budget has gone down. Constellation was always going to fail, not for any techniocal reason. Simply because the budget was never realistic.

      • adastramike

        The decision to cancel the Constellation architecture may have been based on unavailability of funds, a decision I would hope was based mostly on that reasoning, but the decision to avoid the lunar surface because “we’ve been there before” is just inexcusable.

        6 surface sorties in the near-equatorial regions of the Moon do not count as sufficient exploration of the Moon from which it could be concluded that we don’t need to go back. The next logical step should have been a scientific research base at one of the lunar poles, a Moon-orbiting space station, or an E-M L2 station. If you truly want to test deep space systems in flight, those would be the initial stepping stone ways to do it, in my view. Even Bolden used the point that cis-lunar space, our backyard only 2-3 days away, was a proving ground at the recent FY15 NASA budget House hearing.

        Constellation should have been replaced with a more viable architecture, that utilized both commercial and government funding sources and capabilities, keeping the Moon as the near-term destination.

        As far as the ARM being necessary, in the WH’s and Bolden’s view, as a stepping stone to Mars, I don’t feel that is true. The ONLY possible connection alluded to in the House hearing was SEP for Mars cargo (finally Bolden actually said it for once). However, why not test a cargo SEP to deliver cargo to the Moon? I think that would be a more applicable technology demonstration. NASA is lacking a strategy, an actual plan, with missions needed to test key technologies to enable a crewed Mars landing.

        If some feel that the Moon is a diversion, or not the best path forward, that should be based on a technical assessment, not “been there before”. If asteroids are a better path, that needs to be justified, not simply proclaimed. If the goal is to expand our economic sphere into space with commercial partnerships, that is fine, but why exclude the Moon from this as part of a meaningful exploration program.

        If the ARM ends up being funded by Congress (unlikely but possible), what is the next step after that? Is it just more visits to the same asteroid in lunar orbit? Is it a flight to a legitimate NEA in deep space? I don’t see any plan in place and that is a very real shame, not because we can’t produce a plan, but because their seems to be a deliberate choice not to.

        • Coastal Ron

          adastramike said:

          The decision to cancel the Constellation architecture may have been based on unavailability of funds, a decision I would hope was based mostly on that reasoning, but the decision to avoid the lunar surface because “we’ve been there before” is just inexcusable.

          This gets back to “what is NASA?”.

          If NASA is supposed to keep pushing the boundaries in space, then redoing the Moon is not the best place to do that, especially when you consider that what most people want done on the Moon would be better done by the United States Geological Survey (USGS), not NASA.

          Besides, if you do a survey within the political and science community, the acknowledged goal is Mars, not the Moon. And since there is a distinct lack of money for NASA to do much, I’d rather the emphasis be on chipping away at the barriers we have for getting humans to the area of Mars.

          Now, if it consoles you at all, while we’re doing that we’ll likely be getting more competent and confident about getting to the area of the Moon and back, and that will make it far easier for many entities to land on the Moon and do whatever.

          So the Moon is not “off limits”, it’s just not the focus. But if anyone wants to go there, they’ll be able to leverage NASA’s general efforts in space to go there.

          • Hiram

            “This gets back to “what is NASA?”

            Or more precisely, what does the President think NASA is?

            Let’s not forgive Obama for what was plainly just a naive remark. But look at it this way. His decision to avoid the lunar surface because “we’ve been there before” was exactly right IF the presumption is that we’re going back to the lunar surface to plant a few flags, leave a few footprints and pick up some rocks. So our President (and probably all presidents before him) believe that’s what NASA is all about. Therein lies the space policy tragedy. That’s how our administrations view our space agency. Now, in deference to the president, this is, quite frankly, what NASA has made itself out to be about. That’s the presumption that is being used to justify ARM. Because it’s all about going there, and not doing anything particularly useful there. Oh, and Mars? Hey, flags, footprints, and picking up a few rocks. You betcha. After that? Well … we’ve been there before. On to Europa.

            • Coastal Ron

              Hiram said:

              Let’s not forgive Obama for what was plainly just a naive remark.

              It was accurate. We had “been there, done that”. It would be naive to think we hadn’t.

              But look at it this way. His decision to avoid the lunar surface because “we’ve been there before” was exactly right IF the presumption is that we’re going back to the lunar surface to plant a few flags, leave a few footprints and pick up some rocks.

              That sums up what the initial Constellation plan probably would have done.

              Regardless, choosing to do something we hadn’t done before (i.e. go to an asteroid) was a worthy goal if that would have been part of the effort to finally get us to Mars. And that’s what I think the plan had been until Senator Nelson pushed for something that the SLS and MPCV could do on their test flight, which was the Asteroid Retrieval Mission. Now everything is just all muddled up, and I think Obama sees that trying to straighten things out in the current political climate is not worth the effort (something I agree with).

              President (and probably all presidents before him) believe that’s what NASA is all about. Therein lies the space policy tragedy. That’s how our administrations view our space agency.

              I didn’t see that in the FY11 NASA Budget request. I saw the desire to try a reset on NASA and try and move towards a more rational space program. And he got most of what he wanted, so I’d still call it a win for him that year. Unfortunately what he didn’t get was the end of a government-owned transportation system that NASA can’t afford, but that won’t stick around too much longer due to being unaffordable.

              Oh, and Mars? Hey, flags, footprints, and picking up a few rocks. You betcha. After that? Well … we’ve been there before. On to Europa.

              I think NASA’s meager budget should be used to address bleeding-edge challenges, and then after that let others exploit them.

              What do YOU think NASA should be? A mine operator? A hotel operator? What?

              • Hiram

                “It was accurate. We had “been there, done that”. It would be naive to think we hadn’t.”

                No one is saying that we hadn’t been there and done that. The issue is whether that was a reason not to go again, and the naivité was the presumption that we’d go again to do the same thing, which is why we shouldn’t. Yes, that was quite naive.

                “I didn’t see that in the FY11 NASA Budget request.”

                You didn’t look very hard. The premise in that budget, for human spaceflight was “expanding human presence”, as in, flags and footprints across the solar system. There was no rationale expressed for doing that.

                “What do YOU think NASA should be? A mine operator? A hotel operator? What?”

                Very simple. NASA should be charged with making space accessible. It may do that by building rockets. It may also do that by doing laboratory work in propulsion or coating technology. It can also do that by developing space qualified telerobots. Space needs to be accessible to human action, insight, and curiosity — not necessarily to human bodies. If, on the other hand, it is decided that transplantation of humanity into the cosmos is a clear near term need, we’ve better start shooting people up there. But it isn’t.

              • Coastal Ron

                Hiram said:

                The issue is whether that was a reason not to go again…

                NASA’s budget isn’t big enough to do everything. It either keeps doing things that are new, or it keeps doing things it’s done before. And repeating the glories of the past doesn’t hold much interest for me…

                Very simple. NASA should be charged with making space accessible. It may do that by building rockets…

                NASA has no special talent in building rockets, and I’m sure an argument could be made that NASA has NO talent in building rockets. Being a customer ordering a builder to build a rocket is not the same as being a rocket builder.

                …It may also do that by doing laboratory work in propulsion or coating technology…

                Which was in the FY11 NASA Budget proposal.

                …It can also do that by developing space qualified telerobots.

                Let me stop you right there. How in the world is NASA supposed to do all of that on what’s looks to be a constantly declining budget?

                And what role is the private sector supposed to take in this?

                My position has been that NASA’s meager budget is too small to expand humanity out into space, and that it’s best possible role in the future can be in supporting the private sectors efforts to expand out into space. Sometimes that may mean a leading role for NASA, but certainly as time goes by it will end up being a supporting role – it doesn’t get enough money to do otherwise.

                Regardless we need to be prepared for a slow expansion, unless or until some “National Imperative” forces us to significantly raise the amount of money and attention space gets.

              • Hiram

                “Let me stop you right there. How in the world is NASA supposed to do all of that on what’s looks to be a constantly declining budget?”

                As long as we’re arguing about who said what, let me point out that I never said that “NASA is supposed to do all that”. Read it, please. Slowly, if necessary. I said “it may do it by …”.

                Yes, NASA has no special talent in building rockets, but it likes to think it does. That effort *may* make space more accessible. Then again, it *may* not.

                “And what role is the private sector supposed to take in this?”

                The role of the private sector is to take economic advantage of space being accessible. Period.

                “My position has been that NASA’s meager budget is too small to expand humanity out into space, and that it’s best possible role in the future can be in supporting the private sectors efforts to expand out into space. Sometimes that may mean a leading role for NASA, but certainly as time goes by it will end up being a supporting role – it doesn’t get enough money to do otherwise.”

                So are we now talking now about “expanding humanity into space”? Well, NASA’s role wasn’t to cure cancer or rid the world of cockroaches either. I certainly hope NASA’s role isn’t about expanding humanity into space, unless it’s just about proving that humans can live in space. That’s a profound conclusion that NASA has proven, and that conclusion is precisely about making space accessible.

                “Regardless we need to be prepared for a slow expansion, unless or until some “National Imperative” forces us to significantly raise the amount of money and attention space gets.”

                Copy that. As far as I can tell, there will be no such imperative, and the near-term importance of expanding humanity into space is really not that strong.

              • Coastal Ron

                Hiram said:

                Read it, please. Slowly, if necessary. I said “it may do it by …”.”

                You said “NASA should be charged with making space accessible.”

                Yes, NASA has no special talent in building rockets, but it likes to think it does.

                I don’t know about that, at least from a NASA leadership standpoint (the current one), but certainly politicians want NASA to build a rocket. But I think we both know that the SLS is a special case, since it was borne out of the cancellation of the Constellation program, not some top-down or bottoms-up defined need. And no doubt Boeing and ATK played some part in “encouraging” certain influential Senators.

                I certainly hope NASA’s role isn’t about expanding humanity into space, unless it’s just about proving that humans can live in space.

                I’d be fine if it was only that, since that’s a BIG roadblock right now, and it’s going to take deep pockets to solve it.

                …and the near-term importance of expanding humanity into space is really not that strong.

                We’ve always been in agreement on that, which is yet another reason why SLS-supporters are delusional.

              • Hiram

                I said “Read it, please. Slowly, if necessary. I said “it may do it by …”.”

                You said “You said ‘NASA should be charged with making space accessible.’”

                That is correct. So I’m not sure what the argument is. NASA should be charged with making space accessible, but it is under no obligation to do everything possible to make space accessible. It may do it in some ways, and it may do it other ways, in meeting that charge. That’s not to say that others can’t work to make space accessible, but they have other things to worry about, like making money.

                No, it’s not going to take much deeper pockets than we have now to prove that humans can live in space. They can clearly live in space for the better part of a year, thanks to our efforts on ISS. We’d like to know more about the effects of microgravity, and slightly deeper pockets would buy us the ISS centrifuge we thought we were going to get. Radiation is a hazard, but it’s one we at least roughly understand. As to boredom and loneliness, we’ll cross those bridges when we come to them.

        • Vladislaw

          adastramike wrote: “Constellation should have been replaced with a more viable architecture, that utilized both commercial and government funding sources and capabilities, keeping the Moon as the near-term destination.”

          Constellation was replaced with EXACTLY what the porkonauts in congress wanted it replaced with. They knew what wouldn’t sell anymore, constellation, so a new system, that would keep the shuttle workforce as much intact as possible was put forward. It wasn’t about hardware. What you wanted it replaced with was spelled out in the VSE. Congress consistanly underfunded commercial while trying to maximize SLS and Orion funding. The launch operations workforce is no longer needed.

    • Grandpa Dave wrote:

      Why are there no plans to go back to the moon?

      There are. It’s called the Golden Spike Company. Their web site is at http://www.goldenspikecompany.com/. Golden Spike was founded by former NASA executives and has Jim Lovell on its Board of Advisors.

      Rather than expecting NASA to spend $150 billion to get more Moon rocks, we’re turning over low Earth and cislunar orbits to the private sector so NASA could do what it was intended to do — push the envelope of aerospace technology. NASA will go on to asteroids and Mars.

      • Hiram

        “There are. It’s called the Golden Spike Company.”

        Well said, and I apologize for not referring to private efforts in my post above. Those are admirable, and they are very much efforts that our nation can be proud of. While our government has not established that returning to the Moon is a national priority, and billing the taxpayer for it, I have absolutely no problem with private investors making it their own priority and paying for it out of their own pocket. More power to them. Convincing rationale is “because I want to do it and will put my money where my mouth is”, as opposed to “because I want to do it and will put your money where my mouth is”.

      • Crash Davis

        “NASA could do what it was intended to do — push the envelope of aerospace technology. NASA will go on to asteroids and Mars.”

        Ah, yes, finally you see the light! The pushing the envelope of aerospace technology by definition means the SLS and Orion.

        NASA will go on to visit asteroids and Mars with the only vehicle designed to do these very tasks, the SLS and Orion.

        Thank you for the support and logical reasoning, finally.

        • Vladislaw

          Orion is pushing the envelope alright .. an envelope with a request for additional funding… 16.5 billion for a disposable 4 person water landing capsule… WOW! Gosh at only a billion dollars per copy .. lets order em by the truckload.

        • Coastal Ron

          Crash Davis said:

          Ah, yes, finally you see the light! The pushing the envelope of aerospace technology by definition means the SLS and Orion.

          Not at all. We did HLV’s and capsules back in the 60′s, so if anything that is 50 year old technology – not pushing the envelope at all.

          Plus, the SLS and Orion do not address the #1 reason we have not left LEO since Apollo, and that is cost – it’s too expensive with government-owned equipment, especially rockets designed by politicians.

    • Malmesbury

      There have been plenty of plans to return to the moon.

      For years, Boeing and LockMart engineers would sketch out exactly how you could use EELV s to do so. NASA engineers would show how to get there using Shuttle lofted components.

      No money for that…..

      But hey, now there’s money by the truck load for SLS. But no money for a lander. Hmmmmm….

  • Reality Bits

    ARM is pretty useless. More flailing to find a mission for SLS. SEP can be built for cargo delivery to the EML-1 Exploration Gateway.

    Better to leave asteroid exploration to Planetary Resources and other commercial firms.

    Now the minor planet Ceres is a different story … considering it appears to be water there … Not a significant DeltaV from EML1 to Ceres orbit. Same technique as a Phobos Base.

  • Ed

    If they go back to the moon, or to an asteroid, or to Mars, will they be using a Russian rocket?

    • Jim Nobles

      Ed asked, “If they go back to the moon, or to an asteroid, or to Mars, will they be using a Russian rocket?”

      Anyone who goes anywhere BEO in the next couple of decades will probably be using some combination of Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy, Delta IV, or maybe even Atlas (if Vladimir thinks it’s okay). SLS (the light version) might come online during that time period but the damn thing is projected to be so expensive that it’s difficult to imagine anyone using it unless they simply have no choice and can talk the money people into paying for it.

  • Andrew Swallow

    The first Moon Base would be a first. Doing things first in space is what the general public thinks NASA’s job is.

    The first Moon Base would lead to the first buildings on the Moon, the first landing pad and the first construction machines that work off the Earth. The space transportation network would have to be designed and built.

    When there are 2 or 3 landings at it a year ongoing operations of the spaceport can be leased to a commercial company. NASA’s lawyers are going to have fun rewriting a leasing contract as a Space Act Agreement.

    Buildings could also be leased to mining and regolith processing companies.

    • Hiram

      “Doing things first in space is what the general public thinks NASA’s job is.”

      Then I recommend that NASA be the first to land a rocket upside down on the Moon, and be the first to have an astronaut sport a mohawk. Why, NASA could get all kinds of first-time trophies, don’t you think?

      Actually, the general public thinks that NASA’s job is to do things first in space that the nation needs to be done. Bases on the Moon are things that, quite frankly, there is no agreement about their need to be done. Unless those folks we put in a base on the Moon are actually doing something that we’ve decided needs doing, they’re just there for show. Of course, Apollo was just for show, but it was a good show, and had serious geopolitical ramifications. We won. We took the trophy. Then it was all over. And here we are, forty years later, talking about lunar bases that weren’t worth it then.

      “When there are 2 or 3 landings at it a year …”

      … pigs will be flying all over the place! Another first! The human space flight budget during the Apollo era was three times what it is now, and that budget didn’t even support continued lunar surface operations. Convince me that the American public is willing to spend money like that, and we can have a serious conversation.

  • Marek

    “The human space flight budget during the Apollo era was three times what it is now, and that budget didn’t even support continued lunar surface operations…”

    It was only at its peak for a year or two and started declining 3 years before the moon landing. The decision was made by President Johnson and Congress that a bit under 1% of the Federal budget was what the American people were willing to pay for NASA’s continuing efforts. That was a small enough amount so the American people would think it worthwhile and just enough to keep NASA operating. And they did a good job managing money during Shuttle development; but not so good during Shuttle operations when they continued to spend money at the same rate without a serious effort to reduce operations costs, so new development was shortchanged.

    I think what happened after Columbia and with continuing outrageous amounts for ISS, followed by the Constellation debacle in which NASA and its contractors were expecting a doubling or tripling of the budget, was that Congress came to the realization that NASA’s management was unrealistic, and the budget started declining.

    Until NASA does something worthwhile with the money they are getting, there will be some effort to maintain Congressional pork but it will be countered by an effort to reduce the money since most taxpayers are seeing so little from it.

    • Fred Willett

      Cost of ISS is grossly inflated by the costs of Shuttle.
      40 flights $1.5B a flight means $60B of the $100B cost of ISS was shuttle. If D1VH had been used total flight costs could have been around $8-10B for 40 flights halving construction costs.

  • vulture4

    However the NASA budget today would be adequate to support ISS and even begin BEO exploration if it was actually being spent in a sensible way, i.e. first lower the cost of getting there. Settling the Moon and Mars would be perfectly acceptable to the public if we could do them at a reasonable cost. The problem is that astonishingly, few people within NASA are even conscious of what is obvious to most of us; that SLS/Orion is certain to fail and that the money spent on it is wasted.

    • common sense

      I tend to agree with you on that.

      Indeed, rather than building a stupid rocket and idiotic capsule, can you imagine the buzz in the public if NASA were to build a deep space vehicle that would rendez-vous with the ISS on its way to and from the Moon or wherever as part of a first step towards real exploration. NASA would procure the launches to the ISS and then develop and run a prototype vehicle for deep space travel. Once the technology is understood NASA would transfer it to the private sector and procure a “fleet” of vehicles. And then on to landers and bases etc.

      If NASA were given $3-4 billions a year “no questions asked”, can you imagine??? Can you? Darn.

      Instead we have, actually we don’t and we won’t, SLS and MPCV. How sad, how so very sad.

  • DocM

    Jim Nobles said

    “Anyone who goes anywhere BEO in the next couple of decades will probably be using some combination of Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy, Delta IV, or maybe even Atlas (if Vladimir thinks it’s okay). SLS (the light version)….”

    You have heard of SpaceX’s 1 million lbf Raptor emgine and 10 meter/9 Raptor BFR core beimg in development? Raptpr component tests supposedly start at Stennis this year. That indicayes a much faster track than 2 decades.

    • Jim Nobles

      DocM asked, “You have heard of SpaceX’s 1 million lbf Raptor emgine and 10 meter/9 Raptor BFR core beimg in development?”

      I have. I subscribe to L2 as well. I didn’t say anything about it because it seemed premature.

    • Ben Russell-Gough

      As I understand it, the current Raptor planning numbers are 450,000lbf at sea level and 380s specific impulse for the core and 400s specific impulse for the upper stage vacuum-modified version. Those are pretty impressive numbers, I’ll admit but it remains to be seen if SpaceX can deliver on them.

      Basing future strategy on a rocket motor that hasn’t even been fully designed yet and a launch vehicle that’s mostly sketches on the back of an envelope is a bad idea. It’s as bad an idea as basing a strategy on the assumption that Congress will suddenly double or triple the budget, as NASA did in the CxP days.

      I was and still am a fan of the DIRECT concept but I’ve come to recognise that it isn’t going to happen in reality due to solid budgetary and policy reasons. Any near-term strategy for NASA HSF must be based on currently available and near-term available launchers. That means the current EELVs, Falcon-9, Falcon Heavy and Atlas-V-Heavy.

      • amightywind

        I was and still am a fan of the DIRECT concept but I’ve come to recognise that it isn’t going to happen in reality due to solid budgetary and policy reasons.

        SLS is happening. You should not let the nattering nabobs of negativism on this site discourage you.

        That means the current EELVs, Falcon-9, Falcon Heavy and Atlas-V-Heavy.

        This ragtag collection of satellite launchers is not up to the task of sending the US back to the moon.

        • Reality Bits

          This ragtag collection of satellite launchers is not up to the task of sending the US back to the moon.

          I’d rather go with the “ragtag collection” than the it-only-exists-in-PowerPoint SLS …

          So what has SLS launched?

        • Ben Russell-Gough

          DIRECT =/= SLS. DIRECT was a smaller and more adaptable vehicle that could be used more often and more cheaply.

      • Ben Russell-Gough

        Correction to above, sea-level thrust is 360klbf.

      • Nope, Doc and Jim are correct. Its 4,500KN not lbf. That many KN is equivalent to 1,000,000 lbf.

        “However, information on the Raptor was updated on February 19, when VP of Propulsion Development Tom Mueller – speaking at the “Exploring the Next Frontier: The Commercialization of Space is Lifting Off” event in Santa Barbara, California – revealed the Raptor had mutated to a 1Mlbf (4,500kN) gas-gas (full flow) liquid methane and oxygen engine, with an isp of 321s at sea level 363s at vacuum.”

        http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2014/03/spacex-advances-drive-mars-rocket-raptor-power/

  • Marek

    “Cost of ISS is grossly inflated by the costs of Shuttle. 40 flights $1.5B a flight means $60B of the $100B cost of ISS was shuttle.”

    I would like to see a full accounting. I think it has purposely not been shown since Americans would be up in arms if they knew the entire story.

    I think that ISS supporters like Fred Willett like to blame Shuttle for the cost. But keep in mind that ISS has been ongoing from 1984 – 2014, 30 years, at an average US cost of $2.5 billion per year, so that is a total of about $75 billion, and then you can add 40 Shuttle flights at about $1.5 billion each, = $60 billion, so a total of $135 billion cost to US and NASA appears realistic. It seems to involve a lot of book keeping and trading because remember the Europeans built the US the 2 Nodes and a Cupola and provided half the resources in Columbus in exchange for the Shuttle’s launch costs for Columbus. The Japanese gave the US half the resources of the Kibo in exchange for Shuttle’s launch costs for Kibo. The US paid for the FGB and its launch, but which became a Russian element once in orbit (although storing mainly US stuff). The US continues to pay for seats on Soyuz which is paying a significant fractions of the Russian launch costs.

    It appears that the US continually provides cash for all the partners while having procured limited operational capability. The operational capability is mitigated by restricted operations since the astronauts can provide only a small fraction of their time in orbit, and launch and return capacity have been severely restricted.

    I don’t think that the $40 billion cited by Willet is even close to realistic. That number is an obfuscation. The total cost is somewhere in excess of $100 billion.

    • Fred Willett

      The price I cited was $100B. That was roughly the construction cost and of course the costs are on going. But essentially you’re right that a lot of the cost depends on how you count it.Especially with a project as large and complex as ISS.
      And sure you could put up a replacement using Bigelow modules and get something twice as big for a fraction of the price.
      It doesn’t matter.
      The ISS is there. It’s paid for. Lets use it.
      And as to running costs for ISS yes, they are high, but hopefully that will change. CRS was charged as single flights of Dragon simply because NASA had no idea what was a reasonable price to charge for reusability. Hopefully having some experience with Dragon next time they’ll be able to negotiate something cheaper. And then if SpaceX can begin reusing their first stages…

  • Malmesbury

    “Correction to above, sea-level thrust is 360klbf.”

    It’s been publically stated they are now targeting 1Mlb at sea level.

    Full flow staged combustion LOX/CH4

    http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2014/03/spacex-advances-drive-mars-rocket-raptor-power/

  • MrEarl

    Ok! Back to the subject at hand.
    That is a p*issing match between Holdern and Smith over two meaningless stunts in space.
    ARM is something best left to private entities. There doesn’t seem to be much support both public and private for it.
    A Mars flyby is crazy idea from Denis Tito. It has marginally more support than the ARM mission only because it has something vaguely to do with Mars. Private financing didn’t come through so now he’s trying to get the Amerincan people to pay for his joy ride.
    There are so many exciting capabilities and technologies scheduled to come on line over the next few years. the discussions should really be about how we can team with private industry and trusted allies to leverage them to augment the capabilities of established programs like the IIS and extend our presence into space.
    The goal is not Mars. The goal is to become a spacefaring civilization. The ISS, EML gateways, moon bases and Mars expositions are only the first steps to get there. Let’s not get sidetracked with stunts.

    • Great summation, Earl! I mean it!

    • MrEarl wrote:

      Let’s not get sidetracked with stunts.

      And that’s the problem.

      NASA was formed in 1958 to be an aerospace research and development agency.

      JFK morphed it in 1961 to do the biggest and most expensive publicity stunt in history — the Apollo moon program, to show the world U.S. technology was better than the Soviet Union.

      For a half-century, people (including their elected officials) think NASA’s purpose is to do stunts.

      NASA needs to go back not to 1961, but to 1958.

      Unfortunately, 1958 doesn’t put a lot of taxpayer dollars in the pockets of NASA space center and legacy aerospace workers.

      So, we go the bread-and-circuses route with stunts on paper that never amount to anything.

      When Virgin Galactic or XCOR first takes civilians to suborbital space, that will be the “stunt” that finally awakens the masses to the basic reality that NASA isn’t needed any more for stunts.

      • James

        And the first dollars to get raided when NASA Missions are in trouble are the R&D dollars. So, NASA won’t be doing any R&D as long as it also is doing missions with authority to move $ around to accommodate mission slips (Robotic or Human)

        The future of NASA is quite clear given the trajectory its on.

        It will not be developing any more hardware systems, or hardware missions: Robotic or Human.

        The capacity to do so has greatly diminished, and the costs of doing so soars beyond inflation. See JWST, MSL, etc. etc.

        However, since the porkers still want their money, there will still be missions managed and developed by private industry, but it will be done the way Commercial Crew is now being done.

        NASA will exist to maintain FAR regulations, flow money to contracts, and probably take on regulatory duties for human space flight from Dept of Trans. Dept of Commerece, FAA, etc.

        That’s NASA’s future.

    • O Glenn Smith(the former manager of shuttle systems engineering at Johnson Space Flight Center) had this to say in an article in Space News about what NASA’s way forward should be,
      “Congress revived the most costly part of Constellation in the form of SLS/Orion, which is also clearly unaffordable and has no practical, worthwhile objective or destination.”

      He went on to say (boldface for emphasis is mine, not Smith’s),
      “Constellation was clearly a bridge too far. SLS/Orion will be a white elephant and is set to dissipate NASA resources for a very long time with very little useful result. As SLS/Orion is necessarily canceled, NASA needs to switch available funds to tasks that will contribute to the next destination station in geosynchronous orbit or at a Lagrangian point, while retaining critical skills in the space community.

      The overarching challenge to NASA is to define and execute exciting and inspiring programs that produce the greatest possible return to the American public within necessarily restricted budgets.”

      http://spacenews.com/article/opinion/40054human-space-exploration-the-way-forward

      • Vladislaw

        Rick, won’t Congress have to come to terms with NASA not doing operations for launching and have to give up those workers, along with a lot of others that NASA will no longer have a need for?

        • Yes, partly. But there are other projects government employees at NASA centers could be working on with the money saved from defunding Orion/SLS. The budget for the in-orbit cryogenic propellant depot test was just cancelled because of lack of funds. Development of rotational gravity mimicking, VASIMR and a bunch of other things NASA centers could be working on are on hold because of lack of funds. A lot of current private contractors and subcontractors on SLS/Orion may not do too well though.

          But remember, in the past the government has closed large numbers of military bases that had even bigger economic impacts to local economies than rerouting of SLS/Orion funds would. Despite the local economic hardship from those multiple closings which were spread throughout the country at the time, those closings still took place.

  • Hiram

    “The goal is not Mars. The goal is to become a spacefaring civilization.”

    This is a fine assessment, but let me just say that if the goal is becoming a spacefaring civilization, and spending taxpayer dollars to do it, someone ought to tell Congress. Those words have never been stated as a priority in congressional legislation that funds or authorizes NASA. Oh, the words “spacefaring nations” are used routinely, but in the context of partnerships that should be engendered. That is, when Congress talks about “spacefaring nations”, they’re talking about those who already think they are.

    So if THE GOAL is to become a spacefaring civilization, it is by no means an established national goal. It may be your goal, and it may be mine, but it’s not an accepted consensus goal of the folks writing checks on public accounts. One has to wonder why they don’t say that’s the goal, if it’s what they really mean. So we’re not getting “sidetracked with stunts”. We’re doing the things that our nation has formally decided are important to do. Just sayin’ …

    • Neil Shipley

      That’s certainly SpaceX’s raison d’être.

      • Hiram

        “That’s certainly SpaceX’s raison d’être.”

        Yep, it’s Elon’s goal, and the checks are being written on his money. More power to him. As I’ve said before, NASA and Congress have become totally ineffective at establishing a rational consensus in space policy. That being the case, commercial space will do it. The nation can buy that space policy from commercial space if it so chooses. If it does, that commercial policy becomes national space policy. See, it’s not just space hardware that’s being commercialized, but space policy as well. Many space advocates are reluctant to accept that fact, that space policy could originate anywhere but in the national political arena. But it’s happening, and it’s amazing to see. There’s American exceptionalism in space for you. Not in SLS or Orion, but where smart investments from passionate and wise advocates drive the bus. That’ll never happen in China.

        • Vladislaw

          The FAA and Department of Transportation will be regulating once commercial space is in full swing and we can get NASA out of the picture and finally have some sane commmercial space transportation.

  • For those who missed it, 60 Minutes had a segment last night on Elon Musk. Mostly about Tesla but also on SpaceX:

    http://www.cbsnews.com/news/tesla-and-spacex-elon-musks-industrial-empire/

    Some of the SpaceX stuff was recycled from their story in March 2012.

  • Malmesbury

    The basic problem remains this -

    1) Congress is not going tonprovide more money to develop payloads/spacecraft
    2) SLS/Orion are mandatory
    3) Orion can’t go very far BEO – limited supplies and heat shield not sized for beyond the moon.

    So all that Orion/SLS can do is go round the moon (no landing) or go to a NEO position.

    • Vladislaw

      And they will pitch a 1.5 – 2.5 billion rocket and engines, plus a billion dollar capsule into the drink after each flight … now THAT is sustainable engineering.

      • amightywind

        It will cost a lot less per unit if they are procured in bulk.

        • Vladislaw

          And the Republicans in the house are going to authorize and appropriate funding so President Obama can order SLS and Orion in bulk?

        • Neil Shipley

          No it won’t. SLS and MPCV are not set up to be built on a production-line basis or as you put it ‘in bulk’. Only one organisation is set up to build their vehicles and engines like that and they are SpaceX. Engines are probably there now but not the launch vehicles. By the end of the year 1st stage cores will probably be considered as a production-line system.
          Cheers.

    • common sense

      “Orion can’t go very far BEO”

      Orion will not come back from LEO (chutes), let alone any BEO.

    • Egad

      So all that Orion/SLS can do is go round the moon (no landing) or go to a NEO position.

      Distantly around the moon. The current iCPS + EuroSM propulsion doesn’t have enough oomph to get ORION into low lunar and back to Earth. Discussion of oomphier equipment is in the early .ppt stage and is absent, AFAIK, from any funding profile.

  • vulture4

    However SFAICT most people within NASA have no idea there is any major problem with the SLS/Orion program, and of those few that do, many assume the “problem” will be corrected by the next election. Yes, I know this seems improbable.

  • Malmesbury

    “within NASA have no idea there is any major problem with the SLS/Orion program, and of those few that do, many assume the “problem” will be corrected by the next election. Yes, I know this seems improbable.”

    Sad but true.

    The same people, probably, who thought that vibration levels (if everything worked as designed!) which meant it was physically impossible to read instruments during 1st stage boost was a minor thing…

    It’s part if a belief system based on the idea that their organisation is brilliant and infallible.

    I’ve even heard NASA HSF people claim that they are better at understanding risk and safety than the NTSB!!!

    • amightywind

      The same people, probably, who thought that vibration levels (if everything worked as designed!) which meant it was physically impossible to read instruments during 1st stage boost was a minor thing…

      The idea that the astronaut occupant has any manual control of the ascent of a hyper-sonic rocket with negative stability is most amusing.

  • vulture4

    “I’ve even heard NASA HSF people claim that they are better at understanding risk and safety than the NTSB!!!”

    Not just HSF. The Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel issued as a major concen the fact that NASA had not provided a “hard number” for “LOC” for the SLS/Orion. NASA will create an arbitrary list of failure modes, assign arbitrary probabilities, and provide the number, and the problem will be solved! As we all know such PRA numbers are typically precise to three decimal places and accurate to within three orders of magnitude.

  • Marek

    The asteroid mission idea goes back to the lame idea that developed as the millenials were trying to ditch Shuttle and ISS; the idea that NASA had to go somewhere. Thanks Nick!

    Another lame concept along with the one you put forward to replace all over age 45 with all under age 35-which was illegal as well as lame.

    So now we have Orion and SLS in development for a couple decades and we are going to send someone somewhere; to an asteroid moved to an L point in earth orbit. That will be worth a minutes worth of coverage on the evening news in 2025. Its not of scientific or technical value. It proves nothing along the road to Mars travel.

    Its a big waste of money.

  • Malmesbury

    “The idea that the astronaut occupant has any manual control of the ascent of a hyper-sonic rocket with negative stability is most amusing.”

    Might be nice to see in something is going wrong – say problems with sequencing.

    Read the Apollo flight manuals – or the shuttle ones. The astronauts didn’t just sit there and whistle. They had a variety of overrides all the was down to flying the stack by hand. Apollo was actually flyable in full manual – the systems were there. Gene Cernan thought it was practical – he insisted an practising on the simulator and made multiple successful launches.

  • vulture4

    The stability of the stack depends on the LV; The Saturn had modest fins to give it positive stability during the first stage burn; by the time the second stage ignited it was above the sensible atmosphere and neutrally stable.

  • guest

    “A project as large and complex as the ISS”

    For the US, while the cost has been ridiculous; I believe the $140 billion; ISS is not that sophisticated, especially when you consider that many of the most complex equipment is 30 year old Russian hardware, such as the entire propulsion and refuelling system and many of the other life critical systems. Having worked ISS for a long time, I would say that while there is a lot of “stuff” the complexity is due mainly to a poorly organized organization in which there is tremendous overlap of people and functions.

    In every previous program, the hardware (and software) was under the management of the center line organizations. The ISS was such a big (and inexperienced) organization they could not handle othes being in charge of “their” hardware. This rendered much of the line organization unneeded or at best redundant, being “led” by people usually with far less experience.

    The complexity was unnecessary, dissolved the scheme used to develop and manage all prior US HSF programs, caused costs to skyrocket, and made it appear that the program is really complex, but its not. Mainly its the inefficient and inexperienced organization. They’ve now become more experienced but the complexity and cost of the organization stillprevails.

    • vulture4

      “the complexity and cost of the organization still prevails”

      So can it evolve into a more efficient structure, can it be replaced, or are we doomed?

      BTW we lost a lot of very experienced people when Shuttle was shut down. Towards the end of the program Orbiter maintenance costs were actually going down.

  • Gregori

    Its not good enough for people arguing we will do great things with SLS without arguing for congress to appropriate more money to do great stuff with it. A Moon mission would probably require not only payloads but for this rocket to launch more than once a year.
    Build it and they will come is not actually a good strategy…. its not even A strategy!!

    Forgetting about depots/falcon heavies/Unicorns that reflexively people interject with…… if they’re not building the SLS to actually do any mission its just not worth funding at all and they should just cancel the whole thing. Nothing of value will be lost. We’ll be no further away or closer to deep space travel by abandoning something that’s not going to be actually used. I find it pretty shameful that congress doesn’t want to fund the only plausible mission for the SLS. Its literally a fig leaf for the fact they won’t fund it do anything more ambitious. I mean it could look more naked what they are doing than by trying to stop it from having any plausible mission.

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