Congress, NASA, White House

Bolden and Holdren reaffirm support for asteroid mission as the next step to Mars

The head of NASA and the President’s science advisor told the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) this week that the agency’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) remained the next logical step of a long-term strategy to eventually send people to Mars, despite the protestations of some in Congress as well as “outside fan clubs.”

“The FY15 budget request keeps NASA on a steady path we’ve been following, a stepping-stone approach to meet the President’s challenge of sending humans to Mars in the 2030s,” NASA administrator Charles Bolden said. Bolden was referring to the speech made by President Obama four years ago this week at the Kennedy Space Center that called for a human mission to a near Earth asteroid by 2025 and human missions to Mars orbit in the mid-2030s. That speech, Bolden suggested, has been forgotten by a lot of people who question NASA’s exploration plan today.

“Some of you may say the same thing that some of the committee members ask me when I go to the Hill: ‘When did you guys decide you were going to do all this new stuff?’ We’ve been on this path since 2010,” Bolden said, recounting the goals laid out in Obama’s speech. “For a variety of reasons, it just kind of went over people’s heads. But it didn’t go over our heads.”

After the back-to-back presentations Wednesday morning by Bolden and Office of Science and Technology Policy director John Holdren, NAC chairman Steve Sqyures asked if the ARM was, in fact, consistent with the goals of that 2010 speech. “With respect to the goals outlined in the President’s speech, does that mission answer the mail?” he asked of the ARM.

“I think the current version of the NASA plan is consistent with the President’s vision,” Holdren responded. “The President’s vision was laid out with very broad brushstrokes.” The ARM, he said, fulfills several objectives in preparing for future exploration as well as science and commercialization. “I think it is an incredibly valuable mission in terms of the number of purposes it serves, largely using technologies and components that are being developed with current budgets.”

At the NAC meeting, as well as several previous appearances, Bolden laid out a broad exploration strategy that took NASA from Earth orbit operations on the ISS to the “proving ground” of cislunar space, including both the ARM and future potential missions in lunar orbit or the Earth-Moon Lagrange points, and then eventually to Mars. NASA’s current programs, including commercial crew, the Space Launch System (SLS), Orion, and ARM, are all “interlocking pieces” of the broader strategy, he said.

Bolden specifically defended development of the SLS, citing criticism that NASA’s exploration goals could alternatively be achieved with existing smaller launch vehicles and the use of on-orbit propellant depots. “When you start talking about the kinds of missions we’re talking about, numbers of launches required adds to the complexity and the risk incurred,” Bolden said. He added, though, if cryogenic propellant depots already existed, it would have been the “optimal” approach over SLS. “But when we looked at how much money it would take to do that, and how much time, we assumed we wanted to take the path of least resistance and the path of least risk, so we ended up where we are.”

Others, meanwhile, have agitated for different uses of SLS and other capabilities than the ARM, including a return to the Moon. “I think many of your outside fan clubs and cheerleading sections are not convinced” NASA has an exploration strategy, said NAC member Tom Young, citing the lack of details and funding profiles in NASA’s current plan. “It’s more of a passion and a dream than a strategy.”

“There are, of course, a lot of different voices out there in what you call our ‘fan club,’” Holdren said, “and some of them are people who say we absolutely have to go back to the Moon and establish a presence on the surface and it’s a terrible tragedy we haven’t done that. Those folks may never be persuaded that spending $60 to 80 billion to do that is not the best use of $60 to 80 billion in the environment that we now find ourselves. People are just not realistic about the costs of these things.”

Bolden and Holdren also argued for increased spending on technology development, which has been funded at levels well below the administration’s request in recent appropriations bills. “Technology development is not a high priority in the Congress right now, unfortunately,” Bolden said. “It’s a slow, painful process, but we continue to work to whittle away at the opposition.”

“I think we have an education problem in conveying the connection between advanced technology and the ability to do the missions that most in Congress think we need to do,” Holdren added. “They think we can just go to Mars tomorrow by pouring some more money in.” That last comment appeared to be a subtle dig at interest by some in Congress for a 2021 Mars flyby mission.

“Every member of Congress will stand up and say, ‘Of course NASA has to go to Mars. Of course we have to lead the world in planetary exploration,’” Holdren continued. “But they don’t get that we won’t get there without investments in advanced technology.”

94 comments to Bolden and Holdren reaffirm support for asteroid mission as the next step to Mars

  • Like Obamacare, the inane ARM mission is extremely unpopular in the House and has been since it was proposed. After two years, this Administration will not negotiate even this small issue in good faith. Neither Bolden, who has proven to be little more than an Obama functionary, or Holdren, a Malthusian misanthrope 60′s holdover, have credibility on the issue.

    • Vladislaw

      Negotiate in good faith with the republican house of NO? LOL.. you are freakin’ joking right? Or the Fillibuster Senate? … you are just laughable windosovich… THIS President can’t get anything through the do no work republican congress.

  • Hiram

    I have to say that for an Administration that is really quite uncertain about the question of what human spaceflight is for (as with many previous Administrations), putting a target on a goal far off in time is a safe thing to do. That’s the real problem with the Moon. It is potentially near-term enough that the nation would have to promptly face up to that question honestly, and it really doesn’t want to do so. I think a human trip to Mars would be marvelous, but I have no reason to believe that such a trip won’t just be a second Apollo, where we plant a flag (and perhaps prove we can do it more than once) and then never go back. Squyres is naive if he thinks that Mars science in any way shape or form justifies an ambitious and hugely costly program of sending humans to Mars.

    That’s the big advantage of ARM. It’s all about ONE asteroid. It’s not a long-range program. It’s not about maintaining a presence there. It carries with it no future obligations. Ever hear about prospects for ARM2? Nope.

    There is no question that many people have their own reasons about what human spaceflight is for. But NASA and the federal government in general really haven’t admitted to any of them. Settlement? Domination? Nope. How about “exploration” and “inspiration”? We’ve heard those a lot. Get real. There are many ways this nation could explore and inspire that have lower costs and clearer return.

    • Squyres is a superstar of the NASA science wing, so it is natural for the less charismatic leadership to put pressure on him to back the larger NASA program, unfortunately. I am sure he thinks ARM is as silly as the rest of us do.

    • Jim Nobles

      I say let Elon run the de facto manned Mars program for now. I don’t know how far he’ll get but it least he really, really wants it and is willing to put what he’s got behind it.

      That’s more than we can say for Congress right now.

  • Dark Blue Nine

    “‘I think the current version of the NASA plan is consistent with the President’s vision,’ Holdren responded. ‘The President’s vision was laid out with very broad brushstrokes.’”

    If the “President’s vision” is his 2010 KSC speech, then the “current version of the NASA plan” is not consistent with the “President’s vision”. In that speech, Obama explicitly called for missions “beyond the Moon into deep space” by 2025:

    “And by 2025, we expect new spacecraft designed for long journeys to allow us to begin the first-ever crewed missions beyond the Moon into deep space.”

    http://www.nasa.gov/news/media/trans/obama_ksc_trans.html

    An Apollo 8 redo, regardless of whether it parks for a few hours near an SUV-sized rock and the robotic spacecraft that towed it there, is not a crewed mission “beyond the Moon into deep space”.

    “Bolden specifically defended development of the SLS, citing criticism that NASA’s exploration goals could alternatively be achieved with existing smaller launch vehicles and the use of on-orbit propellant depots.”

    We don’t need a “depot”. We need a temporary, expendable, single-use tanker. We need to be able to launch a tank, maintain the propellant for a number of weeks to months, pump the propellant into the transfer stage from another launch, and then deorbit the empty tank.

    Maybe someday ISS-sized depots will make sense, but currently they’re as economically stupid as SLS. We have to stop studying and comparing skyscrapers when we can’t even build log cabins.

    “When you start talking about the kinds of missions we’re talking about, numbers of launches required adds to the complexity and the risk incurred,’ Bolden said.”

    A manned lunar landing would require 2 launches. Since when do 2 launches on proven vehicles add more “complexity and risk” than 1 launch on an unbuilt and unflown HLV?

    A Mars circumnavigation mission would require 3 launches. Since when do 3 launches on proven vehicles add more “complexity and risk” than 1 launch on an unbuilt and unflown HLV?

    How stupid…

    “He added, though, if cryogenic propellant depots already existed, it would have been the ‘optimal’ approach over SLS. “But when we looked at how much money it would take to do that, and how much time, we assumed we wanted to take the path of least resistance and the path of least risk, so we ended up where we are.”

    GRC had a prototype in the 1990s. ULA’s CryOTe testbed has been around since the 2000s. Spend a couple hundred million dollars to fly one or the other already, instead of blowing 20 billion on HLVs that can only launch once every other year, for crissakes.

    In-space propellant transfer and storage is the winner over HLVs in studies from Georgia Tech to ULA to Golden Spike to internal NASA. Stop repeating the lie.

    “The ARM, he said, fulfills several objectives in preparing for future exploration as well as science and commercialization.”

    ARM doesn’t prepare for “future exploration”. It repeats Apollo 8. The scientists who actually study NEOs are opposed to it. And ARM won’t retrieve a commercially useful NEO.

    It’s a useless stunt that doesn’t even need MPCV/SLS to be executed.

    Can the Administration and Congress please move on to a discussion about a real human space exploration plan that is actually capable of supporting and achieving the goals it espouses?

    “‘Every member of Congress will stand up and say, ‘Of course NASA has to go to Mars. Of course we have to lead the world in planetary exploration,’” Holdren continued. ‘But they don’t get that we won’t get there without investments in advanced technology.’”

    Then the Administration should actually put together and start managing a real technology strategy for human space exploration instead of letting the NASA field centers play in their usual sandboxes unsupervised. We don’t need ARM to test high-power electric propulsion. We don’t need solar sails or duplicative green propellants to prove out in-space cryo propellant management. We don’t need a Boeing lightweight composite tank when Northrup Grumman successfully built and tested one under SLI.

    Focus and move on, people. Jeez…

    • Hiram

      “In that speech, Obama explicitly called for missions ‘beyond the Moon into deep space’ by 2025″

      Heh. The fallacy there is that there wasn’t anything particular for us to DO in deep space, other than perhaps Mars. Obama isn’t alone in his cluelessness about that. Heading out in a straight line to plant a flag at twice the distance to the Moon won’t generate a lot of excitement. Earth-Sun Lagrange points? Sure, why not? But the science satellites we have there don’t need any humans around.

      For a while we were going to chase rocks way out there, until we realized that to the extent we needed to chase rocks, it was easier to do by bringing them closer to home.

      So although ARM doesn’t really “answer the mail”, that was pretty much just junk mail anyway. “Deep space” isn’t really a credible destination unless there is something to do there. We haven’t figured that out.

      But to the extent that putting humans in deep space was all about being a stunt, and expressing commitment to stunts, ARM serves that need satisfactorily. It’s a pretty cool stunt.

    • Coastal Ron

      Dark Blue Nine said:

      If the “President’s vision” is his 2010 KSC speech, then the “current version of the NASA plan” is not consistent with the “President’s vision”. In that speech, Obama explicitly called for missions “beyond the Moon into deep space” by 2025:

      Yes, and I agree that the ARM does not do that, so here is what I think has happened since then:

      A. Congress decided they would rather keep the gravy train going and build an HLV & less-capable spacecraft with the soon-to-be former Constellation program contractors and workforce.

      B. Congress also decided that the technology development Obama/NASA had requested to enable BEO trips to far destinations like asteroids was not important, or certainly not as important as employing lots of people in certain political districts.

      C. Senator Nelson, who is one of the ardent backers of the SLS but doesn’t get any of the benefit until the SLS gets closer to launching, suggested that NASA develop a plan that would use the first Orion/MPCV launch (i.e. EM-2) to do something, and the only thing at the time that they could think of was the ARM.

      D. Obama laid out his BEO asteroid visitation plan in 2010 (which I thought was a worthy goal), but since the SLS and Orion are clearly not going to provide any room in the budget for any form of his future plans to get started during his term, has pretty much given up on pushing the original plan, and is letting Nelson and Bolden usurp his original idea and turn it into the ARM.

      Politics? Yes.

      But I also think it’s political realism on the part of Obama, who has bigger worries than what to do with a rocket that he didn’t want and is unaffordable to use.

      My $0.02

      • Fred Willett

        Mostly your analysis is correct.
        My only quibble: The asteroid mission was dropped in favor of ARM because the technology to do anything more than ARM simply wasn’t available.

  • numbers_guy101

    To judge from the news on how Holdrens, Bolden’s and Gersts’s talk with the NAC went, it seems that some NAC members are coming tantalizingly close to expressing in simple terms just why NASA has no real goals or strategy for human spaceflight or space exploration.

    If you make goals too clear, the next thing someone will ask for is strategy, and after that the plan, including a budget profile, meaning years and dates. Leadership in NASA decided soon after Constellation’s demise that having clear goals and running budget profiles long term were counter-productive. This is because the numbers never add up, accomplishing any goals, or do so only in time-frames that are so far away or uncertain in time as to be irrelevant. A concerted effort has been made to avoid documenting the obvious. Not documenting how anything might or might not add up into an achievement or goal, in some time frame, allows NASA management to hide behind vagueness – as they do with such skill at meetings such as these, even drawing sympathy for inaction.

    I suppose it’s the only strategy left to NASA’s executive level of management and programs – take on the look of the deer in the headlights, awaiting the sympathy vote, the “awws” and “ohhs” from bystanders witnessing the impending doom. After all, there’s nothing that can be done. Experience with the politics, and all tells us that. Right? Any NAC member thinking otherwise is lacking expertise, or is naïve, someone who does not understand how clarity is only going to be used to make trouble.

    For those who still believe in NASA and US industry, clarity about goals, and seeing how it could all add up, or what has to change for it to add up, within existing budget trends, is something to be embraced. That we lack such clarity shows the lack of faith of current leadership in the ability of NASA and US Industry to do great things, sooner, sustainably, and affordably.

    • Hiram

      I think that’s exactly right. If the goal is settlement of the cosmos, then geez, tell us that. If the goal is to mine the riches of the solar system with shovels and pickaxes, then geez, tell us that. Oh, while you’re at it, give us some costs.

      But if the goal is just to go places, sort of eventually, because going places is a good thing, then hey, a rock in an SDRO works just dandy. The Moon won’t work because we’ve gone there before. Oh sure, the Moon is a great place to go if you want to go other places, but that just begs the question.

      But this is why NASA has no real goals for human spaceflight. Because such goals would require a self-consistent strategy, and articulation of real value to the nation. NASA doesn’t know how to go there.

      • John Malkin

        As I understand it, Government agencies can’t make profits. The closest thing would be the USPS. I don’t think it would be wise to make NASA into USPS offering NASA “products”.

        This doesn’t mean NASA couldn’t work with commercial entities to do mining and other potential profit enterprises. And NASA could do its own mining for resources to power its ships and such but basically at cost.

        So the first question is the goal. I think their are two options for the “goal”. The first is settlement which Americans and the world has been expecting since the end of WWII. The second is small expeditions (<20 people) to different places of increasing difficulty. Unfortunately the path so far has been the second.

        In either case NASA should enlist the private sector to take advantage of expansion to implement commercial profit centers. This would include utilizing them in the actual missions. Settlements should enlist the private sector even more deeply unless the goal is to have a "simple" base like Antarctica. An Antarctica type base (government) on the Moon or Mars would be very expensive to maintain even more than ISS.

        My Opinion
        NASA != Commercial
        NASA + Commercial = New Industries + Exploration
        NASA + HSF Exploration = Waste of money

        • Hiram

          “I think their are two options for the “goal”. The first is settlement which Americans and the world has been expecting since the end of WWII. The second is small expeditions (<20 people) to different places of increasing difficulty. Unfortunately the path so far has been the second."

          Why? Americans and the world may have been expecting this since the end of WWII, but they haven't come up with a reason why we should do it. Expectation does not equal rationale. I suspect a minority of Americans actually want to pay for space settlement.

          But that's exactly right that commercial is the ticket. Because if there is value in doing it, commercial will find it.

          As to government working with commercial entities to enable humans to do mining, good luck with that. Planetary Resources, doesn't envision humans doing its asteroidal mining.

      • E.P. Grondine

        Hi Hiram –

        Let us suppose for a moment that your impact hazard estimates are low by at least a factor of 3 to 10. Then the expansion you desire requires the protection of the home base first.

        “I suspect a minority of Americans actually want to pay for space settlement.” I completely agree with you on that, particularly in the current economic environment nd after the waste of some $8 billion dollars on ATK’s Ares 1.

        On the other hand, I am pretty sure that a majority of Americans will pay for defense against impactors.

        • Hiram

          “Let us suppose for a moment that your impact hazard estimates are low by at least a factor of 3 to 10. Then the expansion you desire requires the protection of the home base first.”

          Sounds good. Since I never presented any impact hazard estimates in my post you’re responding to, why not make it a factor if 100! Please remind me what “expansion” I was desiring. You mean, expansion of rationale for human space flight? Americans are certainly concerned with “protecting home base” which, I guess, is why we’re spending so much on the DoD.

          “On the other hand, I am pretty sure that a majority of Americans will pay for defense against impactors.”

          That must be why the nation is spending $40M/year on potential impactor tracking as it is. The American public has spoken! Of course, we’re also paying $3B/yr on SLS, which is a significant impactor on the federal space budget. So the nation is content to spend even more money ON impactors than against them, I guess. Can you imagine the job we’d be able to do defending against impactors if we pulled that $3B/yr from SLS and spent it on that?

          • E.P. Grondine

            I have mentioned your faulty impact hazard estimates to you before. Considering my stroke, it is really very unfair for you to keep demanding that I take the time to run them by you again and again and again.

            Yes, the American people have spoken and the budget is $40 million per year now. That is up from $20 million, which was up from $6 million, which was up from $3 million, which was up from very close to $0 for an organized effort.

            But at a minimum it will take a one time expenditure of $500 million to complete Sentinel at Ball. Launch is by Falcon. And then you have the annual operating costs, reducing the raw data of the imagery into usable information.

            That is for the basic detection system.

            • Santoron

              This is all very fascinating, and has absolutely nothing to do with the discussion at hand. Well, nothing unless you’re arguing that the ARM is somehow related to the defense against imp actors goal, which is absurd.

              Just because it has “Asteroid” in the title doesn’t mean it’s in any way related to the cause you’ve stumped for on this forum for years now…

              • Andrew Swallow

                ARM is definitely about asteroid defence.

                We cannot stop an asteroid so it has to be pushed out of the way.

                A solid object can be knocked off course using a bat. Unfortunately a cloud of rouble cannot, the bat simply passes through the rouble.

                It may be possible to use explosives to change the course of the asteroid but NASA is not in the weapon making business. Should an asteroid need nuking that will be a mission for the Department of Defence, the warriors may need NASA’s help to get there.

                That leaves catching the asteroid and putting it somewhere safe. ARM involves catching a small asteroid and putting it safely in orbit around the Moon. Later missions will have to divert larger asteroids.

                Sending people to collect a sample of the asteroid is really a different mission but they are so interrelated that planning them at the same time makes sense.

                Detecting dangerous asteroids is a related mission. Most of the United Nations will be involved. Keep ARM separate from asteroid detection otherwise several African politicians will turn up wanting bribes from NASA.

  • vulture4

    I think Bolden was pretty clear that human spaceflight requires vast reductions in operational cost before we can effectively go beyond LEO, making SLS/Orion unusable as they are more expensive to operate than even Shuttle. The House and Senate have members committed to building, but not necessarily operating, SLS/Orion. So we are stuck wasting billions. Maybe writing to Nelson would change his viewpoint. What we really need is to start launching people from the US again.

  • Mark R. Whittington

    The bottom line, beyond all of the arm waving and rhetoric, is that the current administration does not want to do space exploration. The ARM is a Potempkin program that has no meaning or reality.

    • common sense

      Just like others you have no understanding of what you are talking about. The WH proposed an increased budget to NASA to develop technologies necessary for exploration.

      ARM is the result of Congress instance to pay for a HLV to throw things into space without anything else to do.

      With a big LV and a capsule and no budget what would *you* do? And stick to the requirements please which again are “capsule”, “big rocket”, “no other budget”. No what if no but nothing.

      Oh well.

      • Mark R. Whittington

        Actually the White House attempted to pull a classic bureaucratic ploy to kill space exploration by promising to study it to death. The attempt was so transparent that not even Congress was fooled by it, though apparently you were.

        • Vladislaw

          oohh President Obama was trying to “fool” the congressional porkonauts huh?

          Congress wants to preserve every NASA and subcontractor ex space shuttle workers in their districts. That is exactly what the got, SLS and Orion .. 46 billion swirling down the drain ..

          gosh could have only bought 340 Falcon Heavy launches for that much funding.

          • common sense

            NASA is suffering ongoing cuts and realignment with little controversy or even publicity.

            I cannot remember the name of the ongoing activity but you may want to search.

            FWIW

        • We are over 5 years into Obama’s exploration program; that and his Russia reset. That’s enough time to evaluate the trend. How are they workin’?

          SpaceX and Orbital can barely keep the ISS stocked with underwear and potato chips as ISS goes round and round and round…

          • Hiram

            “SpaceX and Orbital can barely keep the ISS stocked with underwear and potato chips as ISS goes round and round and round…”

            Yeah, Shuttle used to keep ISS stocked with underwear and potato chips too, but wow, those were expensive underwear and potato chips! The cost of underwear and potato chips has gone WAY down. But just wait’ll you see the underwear and potato chips that get sent up on SLS! That, of course, is probably all we’ll be able to afford to send up on SLS.

            It’s good that ISS is going round and round and round because, in our solar system, in the interest of sustainability, that’s the way it’s done. When you’re exercising capabilities, you just have to pump the pedals.

            Of course, the Congressional appropriation cycle goes round and round and round as well, and never quite gets anywhere. So NASA is dutifully following that model. That’s what they’re paid to do. All they can afford to do is pump the pedals.

        • common sense

          Do you even know what they proposed? And why they proposed it?

          It was not a budget to “study” anything it was a budget to DEVELOP technologies needed for exploration.

          Do you know what it takes to go to the Moon and do something significant there? To Mars? Anywhere for that matter?

          How obtuse can you be?

        • Coastal Ron

          Mark R. Whittington said:

          The attempt was so transparent that not even Congress was fooled by it…

          Apparently you think our elected representatives are more knowledgeable about how to do space exploration than NASA is?

          Now that’s funny!

        • MrEarl

          Mark is absolutely right on this point.
          I can’t say if this administration’s intention was to kill off NASA human space flight but that would have been result of “developing” these technologies in the lab with very little real world testing.
          This administration made the mistake that most people have made and that is to confuse Constellation with the Vision for Space Exploration. Vary simply, the VSE was an over-arching plan for the US and it’s partners to become a space faring people. Technology would be developed and tested in phases that would first take us to the moon, then to Mars, then to other destinations. Technology for later phases would build appon what was developed and tested earlier. (That’s the very high level overview.)
          That was subverted by Griffin’s implementation of the VSE called Constellation. By 2009 it was clear Constellation was just one man’s vain-glorious plan to go to Mars in a big way and was just not sustainable financially or through technology. By then Constellation and VSE had become synonymous. That was proven by the president’s speech to NASA in 2010 when he said about going to the moon that we’ve been there done that. He and his administration either didn’t know what the moon missions were for or just rejected VSE. So the VSE was tossed out with the un-sustainable Constellation program.
          It was replaced with vague idea of going to Mars sometime in the future, maybe the 2030′s, after technology and a heavy lift launch vehicle were developed. That’s right, there was a plan by this administration to start HLV “development” in 2015. Congress really just moved up the development by 5 years. One of the stated rationals was to take advantage of the talent, expertise and equipment from the STS program.
          So from a plan of steady progression of humans into space, as funding and technology would allow, this administration and congress has really returned NASA back to the 1960′s era of doing stunts. That’s why you get ill-conceived missions like the asteroid redirect and Tito’s loop around Mars. So the arguments that rage across this site advocating many smaller launches over fewer HLV launches are really moot without clear direction for NASA’s HSF purpose.
          So I have no real expectations that anything will change while this president (by that I mean Holdren)and this congress are in power. I’m a supporter of heavy lift so at least that “long pole” has made substantial progress. I’m waiting to see what happens after 2016.

          • Coastal Ron

            MrEarl said:

            …but that would have been result of “developing” these technologies in the lab with very little real world testing.

            Not just “developing”, but demonstrating. If you actually read what was proposed in the FY11 budget:

            Demonstrates critical technologies such as in-orbit propellant transfer and storage, inflatable modules, automated/autonomous rendezvous and docking, closed-loop life support systems, and other next-generation capabilities.

            Then you said:

            Vary simply, the VSE was an over-arching plan for the US and it’s partners to become a space faring people.

            Except for the fake 2020 return to the Moon date, the VSE indeed wasn’t so bad. However it was far from unique, since it followed a similar path to what Von Braun had proposed in the 50′s & 60′s. Essentially it was just repackaged from earlier proposals, and can be repackaged again in the future.

            He and his administration either didn’t know what the moon missions were for or just rejected VSE.

            Sorry, but no. Those are not the only two possible outcomes, and you know it.

            It was replaced with vague idea of going to Mars sometime in the future, maybe the 2030′s, after technology and a heavy lift launch vehicle were developed.

            Vague? You want to talk about vague? You mean as in what we’re supposed to be doing with the SLS and Orion? Even Congress, who mandated that NASA build them, can’t agree to fund any use for them.

            At least Obama was honest is not mandating a fake date like Bush did in the VSE for returning to the Moon by 2020, and Obama was indeed more focused on technology development because guess what? We don’t have the technology to go anywhere right now, either in departure stages, refueling capabilities, radiation mitigation, human health issues, and a whole host of other critical things we need before we leave LEO for long periods.

            And an HLV does not solve any of those.

            Congress really just moved up the development by 5 years.

            Wow, and did that magically solve any problems? No, it created a MASSIVE mismatch between capabilities and funding to use those capabilities. As of now the SLS is more likely to become operational and then mothballed than anything else, and what good is that?

            That’s why you get ill-conceived missions like the asteroid redirect and Tito’s loop around Mars.

            Not sure you realize this, but both of those are focused on using the SLS. Think about that. SLS. Stunts. See a connection?

            The real work on preparing us for leaving LEO is being done on the ISS, which is why NASA wants it’s mission extended to at least 2024.

            I’m a supporter of heavy lift so at least that “long pole” has made substantial progress. I’m waiting to see what happens after 2016.

            Yes, heavy lift is solving so many things… NOT!

            • MrEarl

              As usual Ron, you completely missed the point. Without a true long term vision like the VSE, stunts like the Mars loop and asteroid mission are passed off as progress.

              Your last sentance really sums up your whole debating style, that of a 14 year old girl. If I remember right, the appropriate answer would be, nahaaaaa!

              • Coastal Ron

                MrEarl said:

                Without a true long term vision like the VSE, stunts like the Mars loop and asteroid mission are passed off as progress.

                The acknowledged goal has been Mars for decades, and as you already pointed out having a roadmap like the VSE doesn’t guarantee any results, and if anything it leads to false impressions of “progress”.

                Building the SLS is not “progress”, anymore than building the Ares I or Ares V would have been real progress. What’s missing is what’s been missing all along, which is a lack of proven and ready HSF hardware to put on top of a rocket – any rocket.

                As to stunts, the Inspiration Mars effort is private, and NASA doesn’t want anything to do with it. As to the ARM, notice that Obama is not pushing it, and that Senator Nelson (i.e. one of the “fathers” of the SLS) is the one that first announced it.

                I certainly have not supported the ARM, since it’s an excuse to find a use for the SLS which NASA is mandated to use by Congress. However NASA has also been very public about technology development, and getting increasingly persistent in pointing out that the SLS has nothing to do if there isn’t any technology development.

                We don’t have to keep reminding ourselves what the goal is, so what we need to focus on is solving the technology and techniques that are keeping us from leaving LEO. And I’m sorry if learning how to survive and operate in space doesn’t seem like “progress” to you, but it is.

                As to the wording on my prior closing sentence, I don’t know where you live but you need to get out more… ;-)

          • Vladislaw

            “I can’t say if this administration’s intention was to kill off NASA human space flight but that would have been result of “developing” these technologies in the lab with very little real world testing.”

            Well, except for being TOTALLY wrong …

            President Obama proposed 6 billion over 5 years to FULLY FUND multiple commercial crew firms. The President’s intention was to have DOMESTIC AMERICAN launch service providers taking american astronauts to the ISS by 2014. You seemed to have somehow totally missed that. gosh .. go figure.

            The President also wanted to fully fund a domestic engine to replace the russian engines on the Atlas V. You must not have actually read the President’s proposed budget.

        • vulture4

          “I can’t say if this administration’s intention was to kill off NASA human space flight”

          As long as we see everything we don’t like in political terms, and assume it must be the result of a conspiracy, we won’t accomplish anything as a group with a common interest in promoting human spaceflight. There is no Republican candidate who is going to take over the country in 2016 and give NASA a blank check. Certainly Bush didn’t, and we all saw what happened to Gingrich, in Florida, when he suggested even something as modest as a lunar base.

    • Vladislaw

      Boeing, Sierra Nevada and SpaceX are laughing at your inane statement. America will soon dominate the commercial cargo, crew and space station markets.. while you are still baying at the moon with Obama derangement syndrome.

      • …dominate the commercial cargo, crew and space station markets

        They already do, for what its worth.

        MRW is right on about the slow walk. The Obama Administration uses the ploy throughout government. Keystone XL, congressional requests for information about Benghazi, the IRS, etc. They don’t even try to hide it.

        • Jim Nobles

          You guys are just Obama haters with only a peripheral interest in America’s space program. And you both really need attention.

          • amightywind

            No. I am an Obama hater with a lifelong interest and admiration for the US spece program. It causes me great pain to see what was built in 40 years to be in unnecessary decline through feckless and unqualified leadership.

            • Jim Nobles

              Well don’t blame this administration for it. The manned program was a wreck before Bronco inherited it. Shuttle had already been cancelled and (despite from what some fantasize) was not practical to start up again. Constellation was a dead program walking. Mike (steroids) Griffith, the previous administrator, had ridden NASA into the ground.

              If you must be a hater then so be it.

            • Vladislaw

              You are also a President Reagan hater.

      • Vladislaw wrote:

        Boeing, Sierra Nevada and SpaceX are laughing at your inane statement. America will soon dominate the commercial cargo, crew and space station markets.

        During the April 8 Senate hearing “From Here to Mars,” Jeff Manber of Nanoracks said that the Obama administration extending ISS to at least 2024 helped him bring back business from China. The Chinese have been marketing their new station late this decade as a place for microgravity research once ISS was retired in 2020. Now that Obama has extended ISS to 2024, the customers are coming back here.

        The war with China isn’t military, it’s economic. Extending the ISS just dealt their space business a big defeat.

    • libs0n

      And the bottom line is that people like you and Bolden refuse to understand that SLS/Orion have painted us into a corner that does not allow ambitious exploration goals to be acheived. Authentic desire does not equal results when SLS/Orion have crowded out the extent of the budget.

  • James

    The only way NASA will ever get to MARS, is if we can alter MARS’s orbit, bringing it closer to Earth.

    Sheesh. There is no purpose or rational for NASA HSF.

    Time to end it once and for all. Maybe Putin is the guy to do it, bailing on ISS.

    • Hiram

      “The only way NASA will ever get to MARS, is if we can alter MARS’s orbit, bringing it closer to Earth.”

      What a concept! Finally a solid rationale for doing ARM — so we can use that same strategy to bring Mars into cis-lunar space. It might take a billion years with an SEP, but no question that ARM would then be a crucial step towards getting us to Mars so we can explore it. Now, I suspect there would be some orbital stability issues, and some awkward perturbations, but in a billion years or so, we ought to be able to handle those. Of course that also gives Congress a fixed date (millenium?) for putting us on Mars, which they are insistent on getting. Now, engineering a bag that would capture Mars will be a challenge, but it will be an inspiring one, no doubt. What an astonishing exercise of soft power that would be. We’re not going to just plant a flag on a planet, we’re going to capture it! The Chinese will be quaking in their sandals.

      • James

        You got it! And, after we capture Mars, Venus next!

      • Call Me Ishmael

        Actually, we should do it the other way around. The sun’s output is increasing slowly but steadily, and in another billion years the earth may actually have entered a runaway greenhouse phase . . . if it’s still at 1 AU from the sun. So we should move the earth slowly out toward Mars to maintain a comfortable surface temperature.

  • quest

    Obama’s, Holdren’s and Bolden’s arguments make perfect sense as long as the eventual goal (sometime out in the middle of the century) is a flags and footprints mission to Mars. The goal is far enough away and expensive enough that it will never happen. The asteroid mission is unlikely and even if it happened would lend little towards a Mars mission.

    The entire approach is wrong. What it will take are new technological approaches that mitigate zero-G; that means a vehicle that will provide artificial-G. radiation protection; propulsion systems that shorten the Mars mission considerably.

    The shame is that in an effort to support the government industrial complex by building Orion and SLS the US gov’t and NASA are wasting their limited resources on systems that will be of, at best, marginal value, and which could easily be replaced by alternative, less expensive commercial systems. In the meantime those limited resources are not being used where they could have proven helpful. I might live another 30-40 years but I don’t expect I will live to see people on another world, whether that world is an asteroid or the moon or Mars.

    NASA is wasting our time and resources.

  • E.P. Grondine

    Hi Quest –

    “Obama’s, Holdren’s and Bolden’s arguments make perfect sense as long as the eventual goal (sometime out in the middle of the century) is a flags and footprints mission to Mars.”

    Despite the fact that all of them were manned Mars “enthusiasts” when they were younger, perhaps their immediate goal is to defend the nation against an immediate impact hazard, and they are just adding in the eventual manned Mars mission to keep the “fans” from throwing tantrums and to get the project through the Congress without .

    • quest

      “perhaps their immediate goal is to defend the nation against an immediate impact hazard”

      The asteroid mission as described lends little towards asteroid protection. About the most their described effort might accomplish is to develop some better maps showing the trajectories of earth crossing asteroids.

      That could be done at far less expense than sending people to an asteroid that has been brought to a point near earth.

      I think that what has happened is basically a cluster XXck in which Obama and Holdren decided to defer any realistic missions, Congress decided to maintain government/industrial complex funding, and Bolden and the NASA non leadership is too weak to want to speak up (asuming they even know what theyh would want to say).

      • Hiram

        “About the most their described effort might accomplish is to develop some better maps showing the trajectories of earth crossing asteroids.”

        In fact, ARM (Asteroid Redirect Mission) is a large part of what is called the Asteroid Initiative and Grand Challenge. ARM doesn’t do any asteroid identification or tracking. It’s all about capture and visit. The Initiative includes a little bit for asteroid surveying and tracking.

        If their goal were really to defend the nation against an immediate impact hazard, the effort and expense on ARM would be a huge waste. Sending humans to a random, tiny, captured rock in no way shape or form defends anyone against a dangerous impactor. Sending an SEP to capture a rock with a big sleeve in no way shape or form defends anyone against that either. It’s like deploying an army of police to apprehend and capture one guy with a gun, in the name of defending the nation against guys with guns. The prospect that ARM contributes to national defense isn’t just stupid, it’s totally laughable.

        Of course, when the big one hits, everyone will look to NASA and say, but where were you? Why didn’t you know about this? Why didn’t you have a mitigation plan? NASA managers will smile and say, well, we were busy trying to send humans to a random tiny rock. That’ll make everyone feel better, no? At least no one will be laughing then.

        • Andrew Swallow

          Until you can handle one man with a gun do not try handling a gang of men with guns since you will fail. Start small, succeed then grow.

          • Hiram

            “Start small, succeed then grow.”

            Ah, good point. So we can spend a bundle practicing trapping and touching one inconsequential asteroid so we can later trap and touch lots of inconsequential asteroids. While hoping that the consequential one doesn’t pay us a visit because we were too cheap to invest in a deep survey and exercise real deflection strategies. Curious, isn’t it, that while planetary defense is considered by some a rationale for ARM, there are no forward plans for exactly how that mission would help.

            Look, if you want to practice defending the Earth, then send an SEP to meet up with a goodly-sized asteroid and deflect it. Don’t screw around with leaving handprints on a tiny one. You can plaster rationale all over ARM, but planetary defense is rationale that just won’t stick, no matter how hard you try.

            • Andrew Swallow

              Asteroid detection is being performed by a different part of NASA.

              ARM2 can use a larger SEP to displace a larger asteroid.

              • Hiram

                Asteroid detection is done under the same NASA “Asteroid Initiative” as ARM is, though those two enterprises are done by different directorates. So you’re saying that SMD can’t do a thorough job of asteroid detection because HEOMD is spending a bundle on ARM? That’s nuts. Bolden and Congress could fix, if they wanted to. Of course, asteroid detection doesn’t need SLS, and won’t create launch engineering jobs, so it’s relegated to the back burner.

                Ah, ARM2 can use a larger SEP to displace a larger asteroid? Funny, but I’ve never heard of ARM2. Yep, that’s one of the forward plans that simply doesn’t exist. Sure, if ARM were all about displacing a small asteroid, that might really teach us something about planetary defense. If it were about proving out strategies for an ARM2, that would be good as well. But it’s not. It’s mostly about capturing a rock in a bag and touching it.

                Pardon my bluntness, but promoting ARM as a credible directed approach to planetary defense is just a flat out lie. You’d think that those who consider planetary defense a high priority would know better, but they sometimes don’t. NASA, fortunately, has largely given up on the planetary defense rationale for ARM.

              • E.P. Grondine

                NASA’s Science Mission Directorate needs a modification to its structure: a person dealing with the impact hazard reporting directly to and immediately under the Science Mission Directorate’s Associate Administrator.

                I believe Don Yeomans is qualified to do that job, as he has trained up Clark Chapman to take care of things at JPL.

                Or they could bring in astronaut Ed Lu if he would take the job. Its not in the prunes book, its in the raisins book.

              • Hiram

                “NASA’s Science Mission Directorate needs a modification to its structure: a person dealing with the impact hazard reporting directly to and immediately under the Science Mission Directorate’s Associate Administrator.”

                Not quite sure what such a person would do. The purview of the SMD isn’t protection from impacts. Impact protection ain’t science. This is a tracking and detection problem, which is not even necessarily the purview of NASA. I guess if a person dealing with impact hazards were to report directly to the Administrator, he or she could pound his or her fist on the table and tell NASA to not be deluded about the potential of ARM to contribute to impact mitigation. I think it’s very sensible for the nation to have mapped out a leadership strategy in the event of such a real threat. But sorry, if an asteroid is heading our way, I don’t want to entrust planetary protection to a scientist.

                BTW, NASA is concerned with planetary protection from alien microbes, but that subject is heavily underpinned by serious science.

            • E.P. Grondine

              Hi Hiram –

              EP:“NASA’s Science Mission Directorate needs a modification to its structure: a person dealing with the impact hazard reporting directly to and immediately under the Science Mission Directorate’s Associate Administrator.”

              H:”Not quite sure what such a person would do.”

              EP: Carry out the a activites to implement the instructions in the George Brown Jr ammendment to NASA’s charter.

              “The purview of the SMD isn’t protection from impacts.”

              Obviously you and the Congress have different opinions on this. See the George Brown Jr amendment.

              “Impact protection ain’t science.”

              I am pretty sure that those who work in the field have a different view than you on this.

              “This is a tracking and detection problem, which is not even necessarily the purview of NASA.”

              Congress has a different opinion. By the way there are also the problems of interception and diversion.

              “I guess if a person dealing with impact hazards were to report directly to the Administrator, he or she could pound his or her fist on the table and tell NASA to not be deluded about the potential of ARM to contribute to impact mitigation.”

              All of those within NASA who have a functioning responsible role are already in direct communication with the Administrator. Their evaluation of ARM differ from yours.

              But it would be easier for Bolden to carry out the instructions of the Congress if there was one person reporting directly to the Associate Administrator for Space Science. From what I know of his performance, Don Yeomans can handle it.

              “I think it’s very sensible for the nation to have mapped out a leadership strategy in the event of such a real threat.”

              Good. See the instructions in the George Brown Jr amendment.

              “But sorry, if an asteroid is heading our way, I don’t want to entrust planetary protection to a scientist.”

              I’ll have to disagree with you on that. Look at Oppenheimer’s performance in the Manhattan Project.

              “BTW, NASA is concerned with planetary protection from alien microbes, but that subject is heavily underpinned by serious science.”

              Perhaps Bolden or the responsible NASA scientist will speak to the manned Mars flight “enthusiasts” on their efforts to clear that hurdle tomorrow.

              • Hiram

                EP:“NASA’s Science Mission Directorate needs a modification to its structure: a person dealing with the impact hazard reporting directly to and immediately under the Science Mission Directorate’s Associate Administrator.”
                H:”Not quite sure what such a person would do.”
                EP: “Carry out the activites to implement the instructions in the George Brown Jr ammendment to NASA’s charter.”

                Hmmm. So why is this person reporting to the Science AA? Seems to me that this person should be reporting to the Administrator, since asteroid surveying and threat detection was Congressionally mandated as an agency responsibility.

                H:“The purview of the SMD isn’t protection from impacts.”
                EP:”Obviously you and the Congress have different opinions on this. See the George Brown Jr amendment.”

                Sorry, but neither the amended Space Act nor the 2005 NASA authorization bill that mandated the “George E. Brown, Jr. Near-Earth Object Survey Act” says anything about SMD taking on this responsibility. Have you really read that legislation?

                H:“Impact protection ain’t science.”
                EP:”I am pretty sure that those who work in the field have a different view than you on this.”

                The point isn’t what those who work in the field think, but what the charter for the organization is. Creation scientists call what they do science. I’ll bet the food engineers who make Tootsie Rolls call their work science. Let’s look at what NASA says SMD is about.

                NASA’s science programs deliver answers to profound questions, such as:
                •How and why are Earth’s climate and the environment changing?
                •How does the Sun vary; and how does it affect Earth and the rest of the solar system?
                •How do planets and life originate?
                •How does the universe work, and what are its origin and destiny?
                •Are we alone?

                I don’t see impact mitigation there. Now the Brown survey ended up being managed in SMD, but it isn’t science.

                H:“This is a tracking and detection problem, which is not even necessarily the purview of NASA.”
                EP:”Congress has a different opinion. By the way there are also the problems of interception and diversion.”

                Yeah. Congress does have a different opinion, and I take issue with it. In my mind, tracking, detection, interception, and diversion are what DoD does best in the interest of national defense. Their technologies (infrared sensors, adaptive optics, astrodynamic musculature) are FAR better than those available to NASA. So impact protection is so important that we shouldn’t use the best technologies to do it? That’s REALLY strange. I can imagine that DoD might find NASA expertise as useful to them, but DoD needs to be in control if it’s about a national threat.

                H:“I guess if a person dealing with impact hazards were to report directly to the Administrator, he or she could pound his or her fist on the table and tell NASA to not be deluded about the potential of ARM to contribute to impact mitigation.”
                EP:”All of those within NASA who have a functioning responsible role are already in direct communication with the Administrator. Their evaluation of ARM differ from yours.”

                So lets see. That’s why we need someone who reports to the Science AA, because responsible people are already talking to the A? You should pay more attention to the evolving NASA line on ARM. They’ve been moving away from the defense and science rationale for ARM, and are now focusing on Mars-forward activities. The science community is pretty clear that they don’t need ARM.

                H:“But sorry, if an asteroid is heading our way, I don’t want to entrust planetary protection to a scientist.”
                EP:”I’ll have to disagree with you on that. Look at Oppenheimer’s performance in the Manhattan Project.”

                I don’t think Oppenheimer ever signed off on the Enola Gay mission. He, of course, authored a letter to Stimson stating that atomic weapons should be banned. Oppenheimer developed the atom bomb. He didn’t exercise any leadership in using it. The folks who track asteroids and compute orbits shouldn’t be asked to exercise leadership in mitigating them.

                H:“I think it’s very sensible for the nation to have mapped out a leadership strategy in the event of such a real threat.”
                EP:”Good. See the instructions in the George Brown Jr amendment.”

                No such instructions are in the legislation that defined the “George E. Brown, Jr. Near-Earth Object Survey Act”, or in the amended Space Act. Again, have you read that legislation? But there are some good words in the 2010 NASA Auth bill …

                “The Director of the OSTP shall implement, before September 30, 2012, a policy for notifying Federal agencies and relevant emergency response institutions of an impending near-Earth object threat if near-term public safety is at risk, and assign a Federal agency or agencies to be responsible for protecting the United States and working with the international community on such threats.”

                So there ought to be a policy around, and it is by no means clear if that policy specifies that NASA is the agency responsible for protecting the United States from such threats. I need to go find that policy statement!

              • E.P. Grondine

                Hi Hiram –

                As it is difficult for me to type now, I hope you will not mistake my short answers to your abundant rationalizations to be personal.

                DOE and DoD have their roles in dealing with the impact hazard, and I will point out to you that JPL scientists such as Don Yeomans generally have security clearances.

                NASA is currently working on a sampling mission with tracking and interception, and has performed several of them before.

                I want to keep DoD focused on terrestrial threats. You want to divert DoD from those tasks, and I do not think that is prudent.

                You also want to keep NASA’s Science Mission Directorate focused on tasks that were defined before the extent of the impact hazard was known. I was there many years ago for the roll out of those life based tasks at AIAA annual meeting held at Greenbelt.

                In my view the “life” theme needs to be expanded to preserving life on Earth. Rather immediately, as a matter of fact.

                You and I clearly differ on that.

      • E.P. Grondine

        Hi Quest –

        “The asteroid mission as described lends little towards asteroid protection.”

        Except for detection and interception systems.

        • Santoron

          I know you know better than that. I know because I’ve seen others tells you the truth repeatedly before. To argue your position is to stick your head in the sand and ignore the facts around you.

          The ARM adds almost nothing to detection, and nothing whatsoever to long term detection systems. It provides meager funding to provide it with data on an object to snag, and nothing again afterward. I hope for all of our sakes those involved in actual planetary defense don’t consider that the boon you do.

          Interception systems? Come on now, we already know how to intercept celestial objects, that’s part of the reason ARM has been proposed, so nothing there. And the techniques and technology used to tow a tiny object to lunar orbit is nothing like the techniques or technologies we would need to deflect an asteroid large enough to pose a legitimate threat. Did you really think that the ARM mission profile would be used to scale up for a city, regional, or planetary threat? Of course not. We’d use the tools on hand in a rush, or develop far more effective strategies if we had the time than are useful with a car sized rock. And we won’t be able to do either if those few advocates we have fighting for better object detection and mitigation accept this stunt as a wise use of resources in the name of planetary defense.

          You thirst for more attention – any attention – to be directed towards celestial threats is causing you to advocate for a mission that wastes funds for no purpose at all, and all because it says “asteroid” in the title. If we were grabbing, say, some large old satellite left out beyond the moon, something tells me you’d immediately switch positions.

  • E.P. Grondine

    “fans’ is way too polite.
    “Circle jerks” is far more accurate.

  • Robert G Oler

    The sad thing is that space policy has become a serious joke. There is no chance that in the next 20-30 years given current technology, current methods of spending, and current political will the US or anyone is going to, as a function of government policy send humans to Mars. so even among the “Mars” illuminatee it is a program that they can be for WITHOUT ANY FEAR that the program will actually be done…it just keeps the pork flowing, the right wing “American exceptionalism” nuts happy….and keeps the pork flowing.

    Most military and space industrial complex programs are like that these days. Who seriously among us thinks we are going to ever have a war where the LCS would be committed to battle? If we were in serious jeopardy of a war or were in a “real war” (ie one where the nations future was really at stake)…does anyone seriously think for a minute a program like LCS would be tolerated? NO we would have to have something that actually worked and was going to get there in our lifetime.

    Eventhe right wing has learned their lesson on wars…be for them, not actually fight them. Same with Mars missions with humans. I like the Dennis Tito thing on Mars but lets face it…its such a ding program it doesnt have a chance of working.

    Meanwhile look at what SpaceX has ACTUALLY JUST DONE? (both near Waco and out in the Atlantic) RGO

    • Andrew Swallow

      Who seriously among us thinks we are going to ever have a war where the LCS would be committed to battle?

      There are plenty of African countries with coasts that will annoy the USA. Dispatching a gun boat, such as the LCS, is one response. It will also be useful against pirates and smugglers.

    • E.P. Grondine

      Hi RGO –

      You have to remember that the generation that was brought up in the 1950′s on the belief in an Earth-like Mars is dying off, and that the next generation has seen images of the real Mars, as well the extinction of the dinosaurs by impact.

      They even watched videos of the event at Chelyabinsk.

      In my opinion, if Elon pulls off first stage re-usability, which I think likely then it is fairly certain that that will be the direction for the next generation of Chinese launchers instead of large heavies. I assume the technologies will not be covered by patents, and even if they are here and/or in Europe, they will not be in China.

  • vulture4

    To me the manned portion of the ARM is of little value, but the SEP tug could be vary useful for a variety of missions. Without the asteroid to carry it could move relatively quickly around the solar system.

  • Fred Willett

    A lot of this discussion is moot. On Friday the game changed.
    SpaceX successfully returned a Falcon 9 first stage to a soft landing on the ocean.
    The door to lower cost launch is now ajar. With lower launch costs we can go anywhere in the solar system and do anything we want when we get there. Moon, Mars, asteroids. All will be affordable.
    Everybody gets a pony.

  • vulture4

    The game changes only by small and painful steps, and we need more cost effective strategies everywhere, in LVs, spacecraft, and propulsion beyond LEO/.

    • Fred Willett

      Sure. Small steps is what life is about. Small steps got the Wright Bros into the air. But the historic moment everyone knows is…?
      Small steps is what got NASA to the Moon, but the historic moment we all remember is…?
      SpaceX is taking small steps. One of them will be remembered as a “giant leap”, not because in and of itself it was any more significant than any of the other small steps, but because this small step symbolizes the giant leap that the total of all the small steps represents.

  • The insistence that NASA has to “go” somewhere always perplexes me, because that was not why NASA was formed in 1958. NASA was formed to be an aerospace research agency, not Starfleet. Nothing in its original charter required NASA to explore other worlds, to fly people into space, or to own its rockets.

    President Kennedy morphed NASA away from its original purpose, when he proposed the U.S. put a man on the Moon by the end of the 1960s. NASA’s primary purpose became a propaganda stunt, and when the lunar dust cleared the taxpayer was left with billions of dollars of infrastructure lacking a purpose.

    A few years ago, Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) berated NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden in a hearing, demanding over and over that Charlie tell him what is NASA’s “destination.” Grayson is always an idiot, but he was particularly idiotic on this day. I wanted Charlie to tell him NASA isn’t a taxi service, but of course administrators have to play nice with Congresscritters.

    In any case, Grayson’s behavior showed the mindset that is the residue of the Apollo program. They think NASA isn’t about evolving new technology to pass along to the private sector. It’s about stunts that protect jobs in the districts of certain members of Congress.

    • As a P.S. to my last post, I found the Grayson/Bolden exchange on YouTube:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1e8A9Z8AQlA

      Makes your skin crawl.

    • Hiram

      “The insistence that NASA has to ‘go’ somewhere always perplexes me, because that was not why NASA was formed in 1958.”

      Let it not be forgotten that, in the common parlance, destinations are rocks. You can only explore rocks, it is presumed. Magellan and Columbus defined their success by the rocks they visited. It’s just that simple, er, simplistic. Of course, that’s the whole premise behind ARM. We have to “go” somewhere, and a “somewhere” is a rock. Ain’t no rocks nearby, so we have to haul one in.

      To the extent we have to “go somewhere” in space, it would be nice to accept that a destination could be a more general accomplishment, such as a capability realized or a technology refined. But no, we’ve been conditioned to take pride in going to rocks. We’re not going to pat ourselves on the back until we leave footprints in dust. That’s sad, and constraining.

      This isn’t about policy. It’s bigger than that. It’s about culture.

    • Coastal Ron

      Stephen C. Smith said:

      The insistence that NASA has to “go” somewhere always perplexes me…

      Me too, and it seems to be one of the many dividing lines in the philosophies people have about what NASA should or should not do.

      Focusing on a destination seems to make people ignore all the things that have to happen before they get to the destination. For instance, it seems like many people think that once we have the SLS that all we’ll need is a lunar lander, and we’ll be ready to return to the Moon. Of course they forget that we don’t have an Earth Departure Stage (EDS), or validated radiation mitigation systems needed for longer term stays on the Moon, and we don’t have logistics systems that are ready to support such endeavors. You know, the little things.

      For me, more and more, I think the better way forward is to build capabilities first, and then choose destinations as we can achieve them. I’ve mentioned before about building a reusable transportation system to the region of the Moon (LLO and EML), which provides a capability that is needed no matter where we go. Fuel depots would likely be part of that, and maybe even Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP), and those are both needed for trips to the Moon and beyond too, so even if we don’t have a specific destination in mind, we can still develop the foundational technology and techniques that are required to go wherever.

      That’s what Bolden and Holdren have been talking about, at least from a technology standpoint, yet the representatives we currently have in Congress overseeing NASA are too shortsighted to understand that. We need better leadership in Congress for NASA if NASA is to survive and do anything worthwhile, but that is a different topic…

  • The whole asteroid retrieval mission idea is an idiotic one! Even the Mars zealots should be able to see through this moronic scheme! But they won’t: because apparently any mission that isn’t the Moon, gets their approval nod. But the truth is: the longer you put off humankind’s 21st century Lunar venture, the longer you delay any prospect for a Mars one!! Preparation for the Red Planet will involve the full use of manned orbiter & lander craft. It is sheer idiocy to avoid dealing with lander vehicles. Landers & habitation modules upon the Moon, will teach us the nitty-gritty of crewed surface operations. Cis-lunar transport/lunar orbiter spacecraft——what the Orion vehicle was originally supposed to be, before it morphed into being all things to all people——-will give us all the major lessons we need, on how to conduct a far-deep-space expedition, using specialized vehicles, that get us to the “harbor” of a destination planet.
    In short, it boils down to a Gemini-type of intermediate-capability program. A manned space project, that functions as the proving ground, for each of the technological steps that will be required for the later higher goal. A manned Lunar mission, in this century, will prove to be exactly this kind of mission plan, which’ll make interplanetary travel realistic.

    • Well said. Opposition to the lunar mission is pure political spite.

      • Jim Nobles

        No, opposition to the administrations plan to develop the tech and bring in commercial was for pure political spite. All the republicans in congress aren’t Obama haters but the ones that are have a disproportionally loud voice as a group. I’m afraid the republican party, in an effort to bolster its numbers, let in a bunch of wackos and religious nuts who are now becoming the face of the party. That’s why the Republican party is starting to look like the Insane Clown Party.

        Back when I was a younger man and voted Republican (Nixon, Reagan, Bush Sr.) those wackos would never have been let in the convention hall. Now they practically control the party. They certainly control the House of Representatives. It’s a disgrace.

        And through their insanity and with some nonpartisan porkery they have practically run our manned space program into the dirt.

        • No. The policy about face foisted on NASA, was done in the face of a program (Constellation) that enjoyed wide political support. The change in administrations brought with them a cadre of frustrated progressives (the vile Augustine Committee comes to mind) hell bent on changing something, whether it was an improvement or no. Time now to judge the results. It isn’t pretty.

          • Vladislaw

            It sure didn’t have wide political support when it had crashed both the budget and schedule to the point of insanity. It didn’t seem to have much support in congress when even the republicans from the space states REFUSED to vote for funding that boondoggle anylonger.

          • Jim Nobles

            Constellation was cancelled because it was unworkable in this reality. Nothing you can say will change that.

    • Coastal Ron

      Chris Castro said:

      The whole asteroid retrieval mission idea is an idiotic one! Even the Mars zealots should be able to see through this moronic scheme!

      Chris, if you read what people have been posting you’d know that the ARM has little support from any group, for various reasons, so get a clue.

    • “But the truth is: the longer you put off humankind’s 21st century Lunar venture, the longer you delay any prospect for a Mars one!!

      News flash: It’s not just about being opposed to ARM. A lot of ‘the Mars Zealots’ are afraid that a Lunar program will also divert resources from putting boots on the Red Planet…

      • @Frank Glover,……Delaying the manned Lunar Return will actually PREVENT mankind reaching the Red Planet, because all of the key technological breakthroughs that’ll ensure the success of such an interplanetary trip, will only come about with extensive Lunar activity! The Mars zealots can’t seem to get a grip on the vast engineering abyss between mere LEO activity & any possible Mars expedition! For instance: To venture to Mars you’ll need stronger & sturdier spacesuits, that could withstand the regolith sand, and last as viable, repeated-use equipment for a multi-month-long span of time, during the whole landing-stay phase. Such spacesuits will never get developed nor be put to any real test, if all NASA does are the supposed Asteroid Retrieval & the Inspiration Mars Fly-By. An extensive Moon-landing program of expeditions will surely be required, prior to ANY attempt at kicking up any red Martian dust!!

  • numbers_guy101

    To judge by the comments, as well as the NAC meeting, the heart of so much disagreement is in weather you believe it is easier to change NASA and its industry partners, and how we do business, or if you believe its easier to change NASA’s budget?

    Many of the insults here about leadership, or what has happened to the US space program, seem to indirectly assume that there are choices to be made about the budget, as if a free choice exists that is immune or can ignore all the forces and pressures that have kept the NASA budget at it’s levels of the last 40 years. Everyone ignores the other option, which is fundamental change, and reinvention and doing great things for US space exploration within budget trends that are pretty easy to plan around (plan for flat, with irregular but slight dips and upticks).

    As Sherlock Holmes would have said – “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

    Change is difficult, even improbable. Raising the NASA budget significantly, and seeing progress without change? Well, that combination is just impossible.

    That’s what the current administration, and many within NASA, have been trying to say. It’s change first, such as commercial strategies and acquisitions, with incentives aligned well between NASA and its industry partners. Progress will follow. It’s been the vested interests in just parsing out resources to existing players (like SLS, or Orion) who are stopping progress (and why they don’t like discussing how numbers add up, because they don’t).

    Since back in the 90′s, many in NASA leadership saw this coming. That’s why affordability, increasing flight rate for less yearly cost, reducing development costs, and overall doing significantly more for the same (or less) budget were emphasized by so many back then. Unfortunately, in the chaos that has followed after Columbia, these people did not get into leadership positions. The leadership has instead been filled with people who have an uncanny ability to avoid making waves.

    So we are left with leadership that awaits some glory days, whines about budgets, has no real plan, and cares nothing if numbers never add up, but which have demonstrated tenacious survival skills.

    We can only hope the side-bets or non-linear events, like commercial cargo and crew, or research on the ISS, lead indirectly to some saving grace for NASA and real space exploration and development in the years ahead.

    • E.P. Grondine

      Hi Numbers Guy –

      Actually, during Apollo von Braun realized by 1964 that launch costs were too expensive to be sustained. That is why he started off the initial studies on a re-usable launch system, which was later perverted into the Shuttle as it was built.

      • E.P. Grondine

        For those of you doing fact checking, I need to add that after several hours I remember that von Braun assigned Heinz Hermann Kolle to the problem in 1964.

    • quest

      Hope springs eternal.

      Research on the ISS … a continuation of research on Mir, Shuttle, Spacelab, Spacehab, Skylab; gives the stros something to do. I don’t have much ope for it. I’m just glad it keeps those profs and their grad students busy.

      Commercial cargo and crew; that looks like it could be a game changer.

      • E.P. Grondine

        Hi quest –

        When launch costs drop, you can be sure that technologies developed in those missions will be used in future missions.

        • quest

          In the future it might have something to do with technology, especially if they are successful in developing a reusable booster, but so far the cost savings appear to be in process. Space-X and OSC are not the first. Spacehab and NASA Mir missions were similarly inexpensive, worked to an abbreviated schedule, required a smaller workforce, and got a lot into orbit.

  • quest

    numbers guy said:

    Since back in the 90′s, many in NASA leadership saw this coming. That’s why affordability, increasing flight rate for less yearly cost, reducing development costs, and overall doing significantly more for the same (or less) budget were emphasized by so many back then. Unfortunately, in the chaos that has followed after Columbia, these people did not get into leadership positions. The leadership has instead been filled with people who have an uncanny ability to avoid making waves.

    So we are left with leadership that awaits some glory days, whines about budgets, has no real plan, and cares nothing if numbers never add up, but which have demonstrated tenacious survival skills.

    -Truer words!

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