Congress, NASA

Bolden defends NASA’s exploration plans, but warns big budgets aren’t on the horizon

In a conference speech Tuesday, NASA administrator Charles Bolden warned against trying to redirect NASA’s exploration plans, while also cautioning that those plans have to fit in an environment where Apollo-era budgets aren’t realistic.

“We made a decision. Some people in this room don’t like it. But we’re on our way, and you can either go with us, or figure out how to start all over again, and everybody in this room, I think, knows what happens when you start all over again,” Bolden said during a question-and-answer session after his keynote speech at the Humans To Mars Summit in Washington Tuesday morning.

What would happen, Bolden argued, is that the progress that NASA has made on its current path over the last several years would be lost, such as the successful development of commercial cargo systems for supporting the ISS and ongoing development of commercial crew transportation systems, which he said freed up NASA to focus more on exploration systems that would eventually allow humans to go to Mars. “We are farther down this road than we have been in a long, long, long, long time. If you don’t want to admit that, I can’t help you.”

“So, get over it, to be blunt,” he said. “This is the path we have chosen. Help us get it right.” That path can be “tweaked,” he acknowledged, but constant changes would result in no progress. “We can do this, but I need your help.”

In the same talk, though, he cautioned that any long-term goal of sending humans to Mars would have to fit into budgets not much larger than those today, and nothing like the Apollo era, when NASA received several percent of the federal budget. “We are not going to get four percent of the federal budget,” he said. “If you are serious about wanting to go to Mars, start thinking about reality, and reality is the budget. We are not going to get four percent of the federal budget to go to Mars or any other place.”

NASA’s plans, he said, required only “modest” increases in budgets but, as in past presentations, Bolden and other NASA officials didn’t quantify how much “modest” was, other than it was less than those much larger Apollo-era budgets. “If you feel we’ve got to have the Apollo-era funding levels, then forget it right now. Don’t spend your time at this conference, because you—we—are not going to get there.”

The rest of the Q&A session, as well as Bolden’s prepared remarks, covered familiar ground about NASA’s exploration plans and related issues. He reiterated, as he has since the beginning of the Ukraine crisis, that NASA’s partnership with Russia was still in good shape. “I am cautious, but I am cautiously optimistic,” he said, noting ISS operations were unaffected in the Georgia crisis in 2008.

He also put in another plug for full funding for NASA’s commercial crew program, revisiting a contentious hearing with a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee earlier this month, when Bolden and members argued about whether Congress fully funded the commercial crew program. He said that, in fiscal year 2011, NASA asked for $500 million for commercial crew but received only $312 million in the final appropriations bill. “I don’t care what Congress says or what staffers say or anything, $312 million is not $500 million,” he said. “We have never gotten what the President has asked for for commercial crew.”

“We really need the support of Congress,” he added, “and it’s my intent to get down on my hands and knees, and beg and plead, and help them understand that this nation needs our own capability to get humans into space.”

63 comments to Bolden defends NASA’s exploration plans, but warns big budgets aren’t on the horizon

  • Robert G Oler

    Until US space policies recognizes that the world is no longer in an Apollo mode it will always be lost in space. the world is changing the super power era is over and so is superpower stunts that cost a lot and accomplish little RGo

  • numbers_guy101

    Ahh…a breath of fresh air from Bolden, moving past denial, or trying to move others past the denial phase as well. Now if we can move on to the next phase, acceptance about the changes that are required in NASA and industry relationships and ways of doing business, so that space exploration outcomes of significance, real progress, can actually happen inside that fixed box that is the budget reality.

    I suppose people will say -whoa…one epiphany at a time…

  • We made a decision. Some people in this room don’t like it.

    Kinda like “the debate is over on Obamacare, time to move on.” No consensus has never been reached about NASA between the Whitehouse and congress. The debate rages. The radicals still gnaw the ends of their plots from 2009. Obama and Bolden are lame ducks and congress knows it. If the senate flips this year the GOP will work its will on NASA with even less opposition.

    • Coastal Ron

      amightywind said:

      The debate rages.

      Rages? Only in the minds of those unacquainted with the fiscal reality that exists today.

      There is no “big debate” on what we should be doing in space – going to the Moon, going to an asteroid, whatever – since there is little money to allocate for such endeavors. The whole discussion has been more like a series of hallway chats that haven’t led to agreement on how to spend a very constricted amount of money.

      Who was the last Republican that stood up in front of the nation to push for a destination in space?

      Oh yeah, no one remembers. That should tell you something about how little “rage” exists.

      • There is plenty of money. It just has to be reallocated from NASA’s rotten non-core programs. The division of Newspace zealots from NASA traditionalists couldn’t be more stark. The debate does rage by any definition. Attempting to squelch legitimate debate is a hallmark of today’s left.

        • Coastal Ron

          amightywind said:

          The division of Newspace zealots from NASA traditionalists couldn’t be more stark.

          More like the division between cost effective space exploration versus bloated and ineffective space exploration attempts.

          The debate does rage by any definition.

          Not where it matters for funding. Congress really doesn’t care much about what NASA does, and the few people attending NASA hearings and paying attention validates that.

          The most the public sees is the stuff that actually works, which is the ISS and the commercial companies that are creating new abilities. When was the last time a mainstream media outlet ran a story about Orion or the SLS? Not much going there.

          In contrast the public understands how private companies can take over the routine tasks from NASA and do it better for less money.

          Your “traditionalist” way is more like socialism really, with state control over ineffective plans. Reagan would not be happy with you… ;-)

      • MrEarl

        It “rages” on these blogs. (for what that is worth.)

        “We made a decision. Some people in this room don’t like it.”
        That would include you Ron, and Vlad, and CS and everyone else raging against SLS/Orion. That was part of the decision they made. That’s why I find it surprising when you defend this administration.

        “Who was the last Republican that stood up in front of the nation to push for a destination in space?
        Oh yeah, no one remembers. That should tell you something about how little “rage” exists.”
        It was Bush 43. You and I both remember that.

        • Vladislaw

          Lets not look at this as a republican democrat issue…. look at it instead as an executive branch versus congress issue.

          What has the executive branch been working on since President Reagan pushed for Commercial Space Launch Act of 1984
          and had NASA’s mandate to include:

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

          I suggest you look up what the words “seek” and “encourage” mean and how the Administrator is to do this to the MAXIMUM EXTENT POSSIBLE.

          In order to allow for reusable launch vehicles to land more legislation was needed to signed into law.

          Commercial Space Act of 1998

          What is Congress doing while the Executive branch is trying to foster more commercial space activities?

          Barriers to Space Enterprise by Dr. David Livingston

          “While the success of the commercial space industry is well established, its continued success is threatened due to the existence of significant barriers to space enterprise. Many of these barriers can be traced to U.S. government policy, laws, and regulations. Some of the key barriers resulting from these issues are also discussed in this paper.

          In addition, this discussion focuses on the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Office of the Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation (AST). The AST regulates commercial launches in the U.S. and is the source of many of the delays encountered by commercial space companies in obtaining launch approvals. The AST’s regulatory requirements are identified in this discussion.

          The discussion regarding U.S. laws singles out the Strom Thurmond National Defense Act of 1998. This act is responsible for creating significant barriers to space commerce, especially with the satellite industry. Restrictions on the usage of low-cost Russian Dniepr launchers are also discussed as the Strom Thurmond Act has made it harder for Americans to use these rockets, while in other parts of the world Dniepr use is growing.

          U.S. government agencies and Congress also create barriers to space enterprise. Jurisdictional as well as intra-and interbureaucratic conflicts often result from agency and Congressional action concerning space matters. This type of action fosters confusion and often causes delays or even the termination of a commercial space project.”

          So let’s look at the Executive Branch proposal, by President Bush in 2004, The Vision for Space Exploration and look what the Executive branch wanted and what congress actually funded.

          “Acquire cargo transportation as soon as practical and affordable to support missions to and from the International Space Station”

          This received funding but with a lot of congressional sniping from the representives from space states.

          “Acquire crew transportation to and from the International Space Station, as required, after the Space Shuttle is retired from service.”

          The Congressional funding to start this was moved to the Ares I program, increasing the gap and our relience on Russian for crew services. We also saw statements like those made by Senator Shelby about American Aerospace companies and workers as nothing but “hobby rockets”. Again, congress offers roadblocks to what the executive branch wants. They were in the same party, but it didn’t matter.

          What else did the VSE propose?

          “NASA does not plan to develop new launch vehicle capabilities except where critical NASA needs—such as heavy lift—are not met by commercial or military systems.”

          Congress did not like this one bit and immediately a new Administrator is brought in, puts his thumb on the scale and ..A NEW ROCKET .. the Ares i, EXACLTY what the Executive branch did not want. Man the congressional members from Utah and ATK must have been estatic with the “news” they were going to stay on the government gravy train.

          Gone also was the idea that current launch vehicles or commercial bids for a new heavy would even be considered. Didn’t matter three companies said they could do it for under 7 billion. Congress choose, again, same party as the President, to go the opposite of the VSE and we got ARES V, just a vaporware rocket though as no real funding was ever spent on it.

          What else did the Exective branch propose in the VSE?

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

          Everything the Executive branch wanted funding for was denied by Congress.

          Look at the last word of that quote, “vehicles”. Tell me how a capsule would utilize “in space assenbly”, “pre positioned propellants”, “advanced propulsion”

          It was clear the Exective branch wanted something totally different than what congress wanted to fund. Since congress controls the checkbook, we got exactly what congress wanted.

          How many items from that last quote did the current President propose in the NASA budget he presented congress? All of them, how many did Congress fully fund? NONE OF THEM.

          So the idea that all you need is a republican President or ANY President with “a vision” is total nonsense.

          The Executive branch and the congressional branch are at TOTAL ODDS with each other. Destination is not the issue. How much cost plus, no bid contracts and how large a workforce can a congressional member maintain in their districts and states IS the ONLY issue.

          Some more raging ..

        • Coastal Ron

          MrEarl said:

          That would include you Ron, and Vlad, and CS and everyone else raging against SLS/Orion. That was part of the decision they made. That’s why I find it surprising when you defend this administration.

          I defended the administrations FY11 budget proposal, which would have led to an exploration program that actually did something. And Bolden has been vocal recently about the goals of that budget, both in supporting commercial systems and in developing the technology that NASA lacks to leave LEO.

          I will admit that Bolden is a very vocal SLS supporter too, but Obama certainly hasn’t been one, and I think that signals that no “bold” plans will be pursued by the Obama administration through the end of his term. The reason for that is the unaffordable SLS, which requires too much money to use effectively, so I think Obama is willing to let Congress be 100% responsible for the life or death of it – it was their baby, so why should he have to suffer the consequences of asking for more money for it, especially when they won’t support what he really wants.

          So bottom line is that what Bolden is saying is that Congress needs to support Commercial Crew and technology developments, otherwise their SLS can’t do anything. And that would true, although it’s unlikely that the SLS would survive no matter what because there is a lack of funded payloads that require it. And that’s really what will determine the future of the SLS, is whether it’s needed, not whether politicians think it’s needed.

          It was Bush 43. You and I both remember that.

          Yes, and even then he didn’t support what he proposed. And since then there have been two Republican presidential candidates, neither of which supported anything grand in space, and the only Republican candidate for President that floated a proposal was roundly ridiculed for doing so.

          I just wanted to point out that there has been no institutional fondness for space exploration within the Republican party, so pinning ones hopes on future Republican Presidents to somehow “save NASA” is more than likely unrealistic.

  • Bill L

    OK so Bolden now understands that commercial crew is a better, less expensive way to build a manned spacecraft. Then why continue to waste billions and a decade on Orion? It cannot do the asteroid or Mars jobs; it was designed and built exclusively for the moon.

    Why not put his limited resources into the deep space habitat?

    He says one thing but continues on a different path.

    • Jim Nobles

      Bill L asked, “Then why continue to waste billions and a decade on Orion?”

      I’ve wondered that myself. I guess one reason could be that the Administrator considers the welfare of the agency to include keeping the people who are working on SLS and Orion in work. Keeping those centers busy.

      Another reason might be that SLS and Orion were part of a compromise to get commercial crew going and he’s doing his part to hold up NASA’s end of the deal.

      Or, in his heart, maybe he’s one of those people who truly believes that only NASA should be the entity to handle the big space projects no matter the cost.

      Just some ideas, I really have no idea why he feels the way he does. The same thing with Gerst, I don’t know how their minds work on this.

      • Malmesbury

        It is simple really – Congress directed that SLS and Orion shall be built. Bolden is merely trying to make their nonsense work.

    • numbers_guy101

      Yes, Bolden did serve up a couple of major epiphanies here-and confuse the two. One epiphany being the realization that the NASA budget is what it is; that whatever NASA does in space exploration has to live inside a budget reality. The other given that he presents though, that directions like SLS and Orion are also a reality to get over, is really where one reality about the budget ends and a fantasy begins.

      Denial that the budget is what it is something everyone has to get over. That is plain to see. Continuing to decry the billions a year pumped into programs like SLS and Orion, programs that do not add-up to further space exploration within the given budget reality he has pointed out, is not denial though. It’s more of that healthy dose of reality being served up, something Bolden seems to be missing in his call for accepting the path we are on.

    • K Lundermann

      Bill L asked, “Then why continue to waste billions and a decade on Orion?”

      Recall that the FY 2011 budget proposed by the Obama administration eliminated both Orion and Ares. Then the administration backed down and re-instated Orion (initially, if I recall correctly, just as an ISS lifeboat, like the canceled X-38). Then it backed down and more-or-less reinstated Ares, as SLS.

      As Malmesbury says, it’s Congress that insists on Orion. The administration tried to cancel it, but didn’t have the stomach for the fight.

    • Coastal Ron

      Bill L said:

      OK so Bolden now understands that commercial crew is a better, less expensive way to build a manned spacecraft. Then why continue to waste billions and a decade on Orion?

      Just from a functional standpoint the Commercial Crew vehicles are only meant for transporting humans to LEO, whereas Orion is supposed to be for supporting trips beyond LEO. So the two are not really interchangeable.

      However the Orion/MPCV has become an evolutionary dead end, and should be replaced with a reusable space-only spacecraft system. However as others have pointed out the Orion is being pushed for pork reasons, and so that won’t happen until the SLS is cancelled and a complete reassessment of or future exploration needs is done.

      • Jim Nobles

        “Just from a functional standpoint the Commercial Crew vehicles are only meant for transporting humans to LEO, whereas Orion is supposed to be for supporting trips beyond LEO.”

        A reminder: Elon has been boasting from the start that Dragon was built with a Mars return speed capable heat shield. It is likely that the systems needed for long duration flight could be kitted to Dragon as well. SpaceX has been thinking Mars from the beginning.

        (I would like to point out that I don’t anticipate anyone traveling to Mars orbit in a cone shape capsule. It would probably be there in a life boat/storage space function.)

        • Coastal Ron

          Jim Nobles said:

          A reminder: Elon has been boasting from the start that Dragon was built with a Mars return speed capable heat shield.

          True, but as you point out too, the future of space travel is not capsules – they are mainly suited for travel through the atmosphere of a planet, not traveling between planets.

          And that’s really the conversation that isn’t happening right now, but should be. What is the space transportation we’d really like to have, and how do we get there from here?

          That’s why I think the Orion is an evolutionary dead end, since it’s already at the limits of it’s size (actually over the limits in weight), and it’s not what we’ll use for long term trips.

          And though Musk could use the Dragon for trips to/from Mars, I think it too will be eclipsed before they actually go to Mars.

  • Exploration plan + SLS/Orion = oxymoron

  • Mark R. Whittington

    Bolden, I have to say, is certain brazen in his use of straw men. Four percent of the federal budget? How about a little more than .5 percent? His plea for people to help NASA “get it right” is a little rich too. People have been trying to tell the space agency that the abandonment of the moon was stupid, but no one listens.

    • Robert G Oler

      Whittington you are a piece of work…you have gotten everything policy wise wrong in this century and now you are beating up on commercial space…should I quote you The Weekly Standard piece which I wrote, and Kolker edited but you tagged onto and took a cash payment for…where you endorse the effort.?

      No one listens because you are always wrong. The Moon on a government program “Like apollo” is just another technowelfare program…that you support

      here is a deal go measure where SpaceX is and SLS IS…then report back Robert G. Oler

    • Malmesbury

      If you want Constellation back – the original deal with actual landers and stuff – you’d need Sagans of money. At the end of Constellation they were down to developing Ares I, Ares V (slowly) and Orion. And still didn’t have enough money…..

    • Jim Nobles

      No one is going to give NASA the money for a manned moon program. Most of NASA has faced that fact. NASA would have been more than happy to settle and develop the moon but they have to go with projects they get the money for.

  • quest

    “Bill L asked, “Then why continue to waste billions and a decade on Orion?”

    I’ve wondered that myself…maybe…SLS and Orion were part of a compromise to get commercial crew going and he’s doing his part to hold up NASA’s end of the deal.”

    Maybe they need to rename Dragon to “Orion”. Orion is a years behind Dragon and the two are, or could be,largely redundant.

    Big boosters are great but I am not sure that SLS is needed when heavy launcher versions of Falcon or even Atlas and Delta are all available. A Shuttle derived SLS would have made sense ten years ago while SHuttle was still ongoing but now it looks like a painful and expensive start up.

    In any case, Bolden’s words are a non sequitor. He has a plan to move in a new direction with commercial cargo and crew, and to also continue the old way of doing things with Orion and SLS. He needs to get with his godfather, Nelson of Florida, and work out a sensible and consistent plan. Maybe that hasn’t dawned on him?

  • Hiram

    ““We really need the support of Congress,” he added, “and it’s my intent to get down on my hands and knees, and beg and plead, and help them understand that this nation needs our own capability to get humans into space.””

    Should we be relieved that no one is going to get down on their hands and knees, and beg and plead, that this nation needs our own capability to land more humans on the Moon, or send them to Mars? To Bolden, it’s quite properly about just getting humans into space. That’s because getting into space (and ISS along with it) is in the critical path to going anywhere.

    We’ll go back to the Moon, and we’ll eventually go to Mars, but there is absolutely no reason to do so in the immediate future. There is nothing actively driving those goals. We simply don’t have compelling rationale to spend taxpayer money to do it right now. It’s not clearly in the national interest … yet. I’d like to believe that we’ll eventually settle on good rationale, but pretending that rationale exists right now isn’t a healthy thing to do. How do we get there, to that rationale? It’s probably going to need some rethinking about the nature of exploration in a technologically modern era. That’s not a space policy issue, but a cultural issue. As long as space exploration is defined by Apollo, we’re fiscally screwed. Apollo proved the excellence of our nation at spending now unaffordable gobs of money to do great things.

    Absent any other good rationale, a return to the Moon or a visit to Mars will be driven by international competition, and some dramatic threat of strategic non-exceptionalism. No such threat has been raised. That’s what drove Apollo. My guess is that a nation that is still arguing about the value of STEM education investment, as well as a nation that is in many respects skeptical about basic science will, in a couple of decades, be out-engineered, out-discovered, and out-technoligized by other nations. We’ll eventually look at ourselves and ask for conspicuous proof that, dammit, we’re pretty good, aren’t we?

    Bolden is simply saying — get real. But as long as getting real sounds like a concession, it’s not easily digestable.

    • E.P. Grondine

      Hi Hiram –

      “It’s probably going to need some rethinking about the nature of exploration in a technologically modern era.”

      In this technologically modern era, most people already know that there is far more to space activities than “exploration”.

      • Hiram

        “In this technologically modern era, most people already know that there is far more to space activities than ‘exploration’.”

        That’s correct. But “exploration” is an umbrella concept to human space flight folks. The Space Act doesn’t even define that code-word, but links space exploration to “space activities”. Exploration is what NASA says it’s all about — remember, the “Exploration Agency”? In fact, I maintain that we don’t even understand what exploration really is. What boxes have to be checked to say you’ve done it? To human space flight folks, it’s something about feet (or hands?) on rocks that have never been touched, or maybe doing dangerous stuff in unfamiliar places. ISS astronauts used to do “exploration” but they largely don’t anymore, in the popular view. We like to think we do human space exploration to learn about places, but we’ve actually got lots better ways to learn about places these days.

        • E.P. Grondine

          Hi Hiram –

          “The Space Act doesn’t even define that code-word, but links space exploration to “space activities”. Exploration is what NASA says it’s all about — remember, the “Exploration Agency”? In fact, I maintain that we don’t even understand what exploration really is.”

          But of course we do. Its used as a code word for manned flight to Mars by those who are afraid to openly say “We want $100 billion of your tax money to fly a few men to Mars.”

          With ARM there is no problem. Just say “We want $$$$ of your tax money to develop the technologies to protect planet Earth from impact”, while pointing out to the manned Mars flight “enthusiasts” that those technologies are the same that are needed in real life for manned flight to Mars.

          That’s why ARM is a much better “code word”.

  • numbers_guy101

    Curious that just now at the summit (~10am Weds 23rd) the observation was made about maintaining “cadence”, and there being no “magic bullet” about the budget. Yet no mention was made about how the current plans maintain no real “cadence”. An SLS launch in 2017(?) followed by a first crewed launch 4 years after. Then maybe launches every couple or few years on some TBD mission. Where’s the relevant “cadence” that keeps anyone’s attention and shows progress?

  • E.P. Grondine

    Blaming the current state of the US space program on SLS and Orion obscures the $8 billion failure of ATK’s Ares 1 launcher, and Griffin’s role in that fiasco.

    As far as getting down on his hands and knees, all that Bolden has to do is to go to the Congress with the Hubble imagery of Comet 73P’s debris chain.

    • Hiram

      “As far as getting down on his hands and knees, all that Bolden has to do is to go to the Congress with the Hubble imagery of Comet 73P’s debris chain.”

      That would be quite an image. Bolden on his knees with a picture of a comet dust trail. Congress would be at his mercy!

  • MrEarl

    Bolden is talking like a person who just don’t give a crap anymore.

    He talks about making progress down this path but what path is it? Right now the human exploration plan is lasso a space rock, bring it to cis-lunar space, send one or two manned missions to it in the early 2020′s then go to Mars sometime in the 2030′s.
    Can you fill in the blanks a little General? Are we taking partners with us? I hope so because we need their expertise and limited financial resources to augment our expertise and limited financial resources. Are we going to use the moon to test technologies? How about L2 gateways as staging points for Mars expeditions? Is this going to be a one and done? What happens after Mars?

    The real problem is I don’t see a path! It’s just a wish list.

    • Coastal Ron

      MrEarl said:

      The real problem is I don’t see a path! It’s just a wish list.

      Of course you see the path, since there so few choices. The Moon, go visit an asteroid, Mars, etc.

      I think what you really mean is you don’t see exact dates attached to exact places, and then funding being approved to do meet those dates.

      But all those places have been goals for decades. And why haven’t we gone there? In addition to a lack of funding, it’s been a lack of technology. And while we could build gigantic rockets that let us do one-shot missions on single launches, is that really the future we want? Lots of one-shot missions?

      Shouldn’t we be building reusable spacecraft that can roam for months, refuel and reprovision, and go off again? That’s what the technology development that Bolden has been talking about does, provide us with the ability to go further than we can with single launches.

      And once we have that ability, we can go anywhere – which has always been the goal. Arguing about which place to go to first is a distraction.

    • libs0n

      There is a plan. Spend all money on SLS/Orion and live with the thin sliver that is possible after that. That was your plan too MrEarl. Money spent on SLS/Orion from 2010-2030: 60 billion? Money proposed for the asteroid mission: 2 billion? You’re not going to have much extent with a plan that was so lopsided to favour a pet rocket system you were obsessed with. All you people who complain are complaining about the inherent flaws that are a result of what you wanted to happen, while ignoring that they are a result of what you wanted to happen.

  • John Malkin

    This is a graphic of the plan, it includes more than just the Asteroid mission. Originally the Asteroid mission was outside the orbit of the moon but we are not ready for it. The focus to move the Asteroid closer allows them to test out systems and prepare for voyages outside the moon orbit sooner. Otherwise we would have a big gap while we develop system to go outside moon orbit. There is a spreadsheet the outlines the technologies needed and how they fit into this plan. It’s basically the flexible path from Augustine report done on a shoestring. They had said at least an additional 1 billion annually was needed for any plan.

    Current Plan
    http://www.nasa.gov/content/nasas-path-to-mars/#.U1fsE1VdVNR

    Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Report
    http://www.nasa.gov/offices/hsf/home/

    • Hiram

      That’s a graphic that’s gotten a lot of laughs in the professional space community, including many NASA engineers. You’ve got the two steps on the left, and then one on the right. The implication is that getting from the second to the third is easy. Nope. That’s a big gap in there that’s conveniently squashed into nothing.

      • John Malkin

        Compared to Constellation? This graphic isn’t meant to communicate with Engineers. It’s a “vision” and starting point for a plan. The eyes of most congressmen would glaze over if you give them any detail project plan. Besides they aren’t the ones reading them. As I said there are a couple of spreadsheets that go into more detail.

        I doubt the timeline is close since I doubt congress will fully fund for all the pieces needed for Mars. This Dragon has taken the first experiment for food growth to ISS. Other plant experiments weren’t targeted to this purpose. There are so many technologies we need before beyond earth.

        • Hiram

          I’m not comparing to Constellation. That had it’s own marketing problems! But it doesn’t take an engineer to see that there is a gaping hole between the Moon and Mars. If we’re using this graphic to convey a vision to Congress, Congress is being misled. Or at least a lot of complexity is being swept under the rug. Mars is harder than this chart lets on.

          I think the point is that NASA really hasn’t tried to fill in the blanks there with visionary thinking. We’ll visit an asteroid in an SDRO and then (hand waving here) we’re off to Mars!! Congress is used to sniffing out handwaving, and the smell here is pretty intense.

          MrEarl is exactly right. That’s a graphic that superbly illustrates his post.

          • E.P. Grondine

            Hi Hiram –

            If you notice, Phobos and Deimos are shown on the right.

            The plan appears to be ARM to a Phobos/Deimos visit
            as a preliminary to a landing attempt. All of the Zubrinistas can call it “Mars Indirectly”.

            From my point of view, in his remarks Bolden brought up the “Lifeboat Mars” concept, which is damned little comfort to the other 7 billion people living on this planet.

            • Hiram

              “If you notice, Phobos and Deimos are shown on the right.”

              Yep, if you notice, just like the Moon is shown in the center. But, we’re not going there.

              I think that Martian surface telerobot control from orbit overhead is a fantastic opportunity that may be a considerably more affordable way to emplace human presence than an human landing mission. It would potentially offer real-time human awareness and understanding at many different martian surface sites. You land humans, and they go to ONE place. Nothing indirect about that strategy, unless the goal is flesh on Mars. It used to be that human awareness and understanding implied flesh. That’s no longer true. Zubrin has a flesh fetish, which is a somewhat archaic perspective on exploration.

              Phobos and Deimos may have little to do with all that. There are advantages and disadvantages of doing telerobotics from the surface of one of those moons instead of from an orbiting habitat.

              But there is a huge capability gap between ARM and getting to Mars orbit, whether or not you’re going to a rock there.

              Speaking of flesh fetish, I think the prospect of Mars as a site for species insurance is pretty simplistic. Species preservation will require the transplantation of tens of thousands of genomes in order to avoid genetic divergence. A mom & pop outpost won’t do it.

        • numbers_guy101

          A plan without a timeline is no plan at all. During the H2M summit some speakers said “the budget being an unknown”, all that could be done was define the steps or “sequence”. Total denial. The budget is known! The reason it’s not profiled is it may (or more likely not) add up to a mission to Mars sometime a couple of generations from now; SO FAR AWAY AS TO BE IRRELEVANT. No, working a first few steps, or the first couple of steps in a vision, and drawing pictures of how one day there may be some outcome to the right in a pretty picture, is no plan at all.

          It’s the acceptance of one reality, a flatish budget trending along the same trend as the last 40 years, coupled with denial about the CHANGE that budget requires inside NASA and industry in order to produce real, meaningful progress in space exploration.

    • MrEarl

      That’s a graphic of my first paragraph. No answer to important questions in my second paragraph.

    • Hiram

      At the H2M meeting today Lora Bailey gave a nice presentation on the “exploration module” hab concept. JSC is working on that for the AES Deep Space Habitat project. She addressed the Mars-forward pathfinder aspects of that habitat, which would be used in cis-lunar space. See

      http://new.livestream.com/viewnow/exploremars/videos/48942168

      Her slide 6 (1:43 in the video) is a marvelous text version of this “vision” graphic entitled “Fundamental Functions/Capabilities Needed”. ISS at left. Cis-lunar at center left, Mars at right, and in between the latter two is a segment entitled “Vast Gap/Leap in Needs and Capabilities from Lunar Vicinity to Interplanetary”. Yep, a VAST GAP/LEAP. It’s that VAST/GAP LEAP IN NEEDS AND CAPABILITIES that was left out of the “vision” graphic. At least AES takes this seriously, even if the visioneers evidently don’t. Whew.

  • John Malkin

    Here is a list of the technologies required for Beyond Earth
    http://www.nasa.gov/exploration/technology/index.html

    • MrEarl

      And that’s the wish list. What is the plan and path to get the wish list?

      • Coastal Ron

        It’s not just a “wish list”, is required. As to what the plan is, it’s to get Congress to fund basic technology development, which Congress has been refusing to do.

        if you remember, NASA didn’t want to build an unaffordable HLV (i.e. the SLS), it wanted to focus on the basic technology that is keeping us from doing space exploration beyond LEO. HLV’s don’t solve that, so Congress is funding the wrong things – hence it’s Congress keeping us from leaving LEO.

        • Hiram

          “It’s not just a “wish list”, is required.”

          Well, in all fairness, it is a wish list, and in the spirit of flexible path, wish lists are important. But I think the question is how these items fit seamlessly into a real plan. Once you have a real plan, with notional subsystems, it’s easier to map out the implementation risks and possible substitutes. Also, just getting the wish list satisfied can be fiscally problematical. Is the development prioritization clear for these items?

          Here’s a trivial example. If the goal is Mars orbit (whether in the interest of planetary protection or more economical exploration), you can forget about landing systems or surface habs. The only problem with flexible path is that preserving flexibility requires investments that you may not really need to make, once you decide what you want to do. We can’t quite decide what we really want to do, which is only partly defensible.

          • Coastal Ron

            Hiram said:

            We can’t quite decide what we really want to do, which is only partly defensible.

            We don’t lack for ideas, and really there are only a few real choices, so the indefensible part is that no one has pulled together a broad range of groups to develop a consensus for what we should be doing.

            Bush43/O’Keefe were doing spiral development, but then Bush43/Griffin cut that short and instigated a plan that ignored fiscal realities. Obama/Bolden proposed pausing HLV rocket development as well as canceling the short-range exploration spacecraft, and instead wanted to focus on putting in place commercial capabilities and doing fundamental technology development needed for the next steps in explorations – and we all know how that ended up.

            Regardless how we got to where we are, the real fundamental question is whether we should have any faith that things will get better for the NASA we have today. And the NASA we have today is bloated, with multiple fiefdoms that inspire nonsensical expenditures for things that don’t really advance the hope and dreams we all have of space exploration.

            Can that situation ever change?

            That is why I believe that the future of space exploration here in the U.S. will be with private companies, and that will no doubt be slow. Sure NASA will do some too, and hopefully with the private companies, but I con’t currently see a path forward for NASA that leads to any big accomplishments. And I lay the blame for that at the feet of Congress as a whole.

      • Vladislaw

        Congress has already refused both a Republican and Democrat who wanted technology funding. They wanted CONstellation under the republican and SLS under the democratic Presidents.. Congress wants the pork not the tech ..

  • Jim Nobles

    A lot of people are talking like NASA is in a position to make ambitious plans and then carry them out. They are not. They would be if they controlled their money but they do not. NASA’s funding is so tied up in politics that they are unlikely to ever be able to come up with a coherent plan that the money masters will pay for.

    I think the real (if unspoken) plan for now is to keep bringing commercial on in order to get launch costs down and keep supporting SLS and Orion in order to keep some important politicians on their side. Plus, if some miracle occurs, they could end up with their own heavy lifter.

    That’s what it looks like to me anyway.

    • Malmesbury

      “I think the real (if unspoken) plan for now is to keep bringing commercial on in order to get launch costs down and keep supporting SLS and Orion in order to keep some important politicians on their side. Plus, if some miracle occurs, they could end up with their own heavy lifter.”

      That is the explicit deal that was made – Orion/SLS & JWST in return for Commercial Crew.

      This is why Bolden is trying to make SLS work – it was part of the agreed deal between Congress and the White House.

  • red

    “We made a decision. Some people in this room don’t like it. But we’re on our way, and you can either go with us, or figure out how to start all over again, and everybody in this room, I think, knows what happens when you start all over again,”

    The last time NASA started all over again (at least in some areas) was the FY11 budget request that led to the Constellation disaster ending and SLS/MPCV starting. Yes, we know that it’s regrettable that SLS/MPCV were started. However, consider the overall result of that change. Commercial crew was started. ISS was saved, resulting in long-term science, technology development, commercial cargo, and other useful work. Some semblance of life was brought back to NASA technology development. SLS, bad as it is, isn’t nearly as bad in terms of wasted budget and attacks on the U.S. commercial launch industry as Ares I and Ares V combined.

    Did NASA get improved enough during that restart to save it? Possibly not. Was the improvement worth the battle and temporary chaos? I think it was well worth it.

    Let’s have another reset and try to get rid of SLS/Orion, and try to replace them with robotic precursor missions, fully funded commercial crew, more ISS use and capabilities, more robotic science missions, more space technology development work, more space technology demonstration missions, and more commercial partnerships. If we only get rid of 1 of SLS/Orion, or just limit their excesses, and only get a few of these added in their place, it will still be worth the effort.

  • James

    All stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end.
    The Beginning of the NASA Human Space Flight story began in the 1960′s with Apollo.
    The Middle of the NASA HSF story was 1970 up through 2003, the Columbia Disaster.
    The end of the NASA story is where we are now.

    Folks on this blog argue about particulars: commercial crew and cargo vs. Orion and SLS; Congress wants this and the Administration wants that; Bush supported this, Obama wants that. yak yak yak.

    Stand back, take a bigger look, and notwithstanding the ups and downs of anyone’s pet ‘particular’, the story of NASA human space flight is ending.

    The question is, when NASA’s HSF story ends, where is the story of Commercial HSF?. Musk and his ilk, only hope their fortunes are not tied to the NASA HSF Story.

    Another question, what becomes of NASA’s Science Directorate and their story…..is there fate also tied to NASA HSF.

    • Jim Nobles

      I agree that we may be looking at the beginning of the commercial space age and the end of the government dominated space age. It was bound to happen, one day it did.

    • Hiram

      “Stand back, take a bigger look, and notwithstanding the ups and downs of anyone’s pet ‘particular’, the story of NASA human space flight is ending.”

      Human spaceflight is suffering a rationale crisis, and unless it escapes from that crisis, the end is forseeable. Not sure how long it will take for that to pan out. As long as human spaceflight is a conduit for federal dollars, it might last a while without rationale. When NASA’s human space flight ends, NASA as we know it will end. NASA *is* human spaceflight, in the popular view. Never mind the Space Act that charters the organization not mentioning human space flight. Oh, all that NASA space science is just to support the human space flight, again in the popular view.

      That, of course, would be a tragedy for NASA space science, though it need not be a tragedy for space science. Most space science missions are developed and launched by industry. NASA offers “responsible oversight” and contract management spreadsheeting. If there were a mechanism to guarantee responsible oversight for federal dollars, life could go on. No, don’t point to NSF. NSF is fairly incompetent at management of large, cutting edge, high technology programs, probably because its user base is largely academic. NSF has no programmatic vested scientific interests in those programs. NSF doesn’t employ scientists to do science, as NASA does.

      Of course, commercial human space flight then becomes, well, entirely commercial. It’s up to providers to sell rides. If ISS is done and gone, it’s going to be hard to find rides to sell. Industry won’t buy them, and rich tourists aren’t going to be easy to find. I think SpaceX could easily thrive without human space flight, but human spaceflight is why Musk is in the ‘biz.

      • James

        “Human spaceflight is suffering a rationale crisis, and unless it escapes from that crisis, the end is forseeable. Not sure how long it will take for that to pan out. As long as human spaceflight is a conduit for federal dollars, it might last a while without rationale”

        There has been no rationale for HSF since the moment Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. At that moment, the concern of the American President, Congress, and yes American public, was satisfied: We showed we are more technologically advanced in the realm of spaceflight, than Russia. This concern therefore went away, and any need to satisfy it with more moon shots as well. The end. Game, set, match

        Since that moment, there have not been any concerns of the American public (NASA is an agent of the public after all, and exists to satisfy the American public concerns) that were big enough, broad enough, and felt deeply enough, to warrant continued spending at Apollo levels. The concerns of the HSF communities, who now needed work, remained, and so NASA HSF became a niche faction, and the HSF communities concerns became the local politicians concerns for re election; hence Shuttle and ISS emerged to address the HSF communities, and their local politicians concerns for survival.

        That era of existence w/o rationale was sufficient until NASA lost 7 more crew members (Columbia Accident) to the dysfunctional culture that permeates the halls of NASA HQ, HSF Field Centers, Congress, White House, and OMB.

        Now the end game, the end of the NASA HSF story is upon us.

        I fear you are correct in that as NASA HSF goes, so to does NASA Space Science. What gives NASA the capacity to manage PI led contractor based missions, is the internal capacity to do the same; yes, those over-budget, behind schedule, in house/directed missions. However, that capacity is dwindling as there is less in house work for the NASA Field center federal employees and their local contracting workforce.

        If one wishes to look, and certainly Bolden and those of his ilk do not wish to look – heck they can’t even see beyond their political and emotional loyalties to notice – one can see that even Space Science , for lack of budgets (flat budgets means less missions and work), and poor Field Center performance, may very well be in the end of it’s story as well.

        • Hiram

          “Since that moment, there have not been any concerns of the American public (NASA is an agent of the public after all, and exists to satisfy the American public concerns) that were big enough, broad enough, and felt deeply enough, to warrant continued spending at Apollo levels.”

          I would say that it depends on how you look at federal investment strategy. Since Apollo, human spaceflight has been about “exploration” (because, hey, explorers in their ships and boots did good things — so ships and boots are good!), “inspiration” (because, after all, dropped jaws are the magic ingredient for the next generation of technologists), and “soft power” (because cutting edge technology applied to even otherwise questionably useful goals shows the world what we’re made of). But it’s also about excitement and entertainment. Call it stunts. Human space flight is REALLY COOL. These points are all arguable, except the latter. No question about its coolness. So are federal expenditures justified to support REALLY COOL stuff? Is achieving coolness in the national interest? Now, if Elon Musk wants to pay for REALLY COOL stuff, that’s up to him, not Congress or the taxpayer.

          There are other justifications for human space flight that have been discussed, such as material wealth and species preservation. But the former has hardly been demonstrated, and certainly the importance of human spaceflight to it is questionable. The latter is simply not a pressing concern. Neither of those justifications seem to cleanly apply to a federal agency. What unique responsibility does NASA, or even our government, have to species preservation?

          There’s the rationale crisis for you. It’s a crisis about government responsibility, not about human spaceflight itself.

          Of course, Congress has asked precisely this question, and the NRC Human Spaceflight Committee has been challenged by Congress to face up to it. The question is whether they can think outside of the box, and come up with rationale that goes beyond exploration, inspiration, and soft power. Human spaceflight has demeaned those words, and made them more insipid than they deserve to be. Maybe the Committee can resurrect those words for human spaceflight, and give them new relevance.

          But then there’s the coolness. I believe fervently in the coolness of human space flight. I want it to happen. I just can’t reconcile it with billing the taxpayer for it. Oh, science is about exploration, inspiration, and soft power as well. It represents those goals in a thoroughly non-insipid way. The national value of it is profound. It’s also pretty cool. But at least for space science, we don’t like to talk about that.

  • Hiram

    Did you all notice Taber MacCallum’s presentation on Inspiration Mars at the H2M conference? Wherin he poses the premise that “NASA is a philanthropy – it would be natural for NASA to team with other philanthropies and form partnerships”. So what he’s looking for, to fund IM, is a “public-private philanthropy”. NASA as a philanthropy? Of course, philanthropic donations are not bound by contractual obligations. They’re grants. So NASA is supposed to shovel money at IM, smile, and say, “do your best!”? What’s he ‘smokin?

    Again, this is just an example of how NASA human space flight is so bereft of rationale that human space flight advocates are fabricating human space flight charters for the agency.

  • Robert Clark

    The Human 2 Mars is Livestreamed:

    http://new.livestream.com/viewnow

    It will probably be saved for later viewing on that site if you missed the earlier sessions.

    I asked Bolden about offering a “contingency plan” to Congress for rapid U.S. space access to the ISS in case of a severe decline of Russian/U.S. relations. SpaceX wants to get their own astronauts to LEO by 2015. So why not fund them also to get NASA astronauts to the ISS by then?
    Bolden responded SpaceX has not been chosen as the provider. Alright, then also fund Boeing as another provider to make that faster time frame, or perhaps 2016 for Boeing.

    Bob Clark

    • Coastal Ron

      Robert Clark said:

      SpaceX wants to get their own astronauts to LEO by 2015. So why not fund them also to get NASA astronauts to the ISS by then?

      Great question Robert. And the real answer (i.e. fully funding Commercial Crew) is so apparently simple that there must be some major politics involved in the background to have affected the Commercial Crew program funding.

      It will be interesting to see in the August timeframe, when the CCtCap contract winners are supposed announced, how that answer would change if re-asked.

      • Malmesbury

        “And the real answer (i.e. fully funding Commercial Crew) is so apparently simple that there must be some major politics involved in the background to have affected the Commercial Crew program funding.”

        The original deal was that Orion would fly um manned before Commercial Crew. The Orion supporters are getting nervous and want Commercial Crew the other side of the Presidential election. As they see it, too easy for an incoming President to chop their stuff if the US has manned spaceflight again

    • amightywind has made this point many time on this forum. Why wouldn’t Bolden was to accelerate the glacial pace of commercial crew and down select vendors?

  • mike shupp

    NASA’s plans, he said, required only “modest” increases in budgets

    I can’t help but think Bolden needs to make his case with a little blunt realism. He ought to have a reasonable list of technologies that have to be developed, along with cost and time budgets (“improved human waste recycling for water reclamation, at 1.5 billion dollars over twelve years”), a reasonable list of hardware (“14 heavy SLS boosters, at 1.2 billion dollars each, at 1.5 years per booster given current funding levels”), etc. Then produce the total cost and schedule (“450 billion dollars, at 2.25 billion dollars per year, with a first Mars landing in 2216. Or 70 years at 6.5 billion per year, if we totally eliminate planetary science funding. That’s what we can do given current funding.”)

    I just don’t see things changing, for better or worse, till Congress gets a little “sticker shock.”

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