Congress, NASA

NASA and Congress like the NRC report, for very different reasons

Wednesday morning’s briefing on the Committee on Human Spaceflight’s report largely followed the key points laid out in the report and discussed here. That included the decision to make Mars the “horizon goal” for human space exploration, a discussion of some of the exploration architectures included in the report, and other issues about public sentiment and spending.

The committee’s leadership did make it clear in the briefing that they do not consider NASA’s current plans adequate. “The program of record, we believe, will not be able to get us to the ultimate horizon goal in a foreseeable amount of time,” so co-chairman Jonathan Lunine, echoing comments made by the other co-chairman, Mitch Daniels. “We recommend a change to what we call a ‘pathways’ approach to human space exploration. This is a specific sequence of intermediate accomplishments and destinations that led to the horizon goal and for which there is technology feed forward from one mission to subsequent missions.”

That comment would appear to be a sharp rejection of the “flexible path” approach that NASA largely adopted from the Augustine Committee’s 2009 report. Yet NASA, in a statement Wednesday afternoon, largely endorsed the report.

“After a preliminary review, we are pleased to find the NRC’s assessment and identification of compelling themes for human exploration are consistent with the bipartisan plan agreed to by Congress and the Administration in the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 and that we have been implementing ever since,” NASA said. “There is a consensus that our horizon goal should be a human mission to Mars and the stepping stone and pathways thrust of the NRC report complements NASA’s ongoing approach.” The statement makes no mention of the comments by the committee rejecting the program of record, or more technical criticism in the report of a mission architecture that includes the Asteroid Redirect Mission.

The report also got an endorsement from Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL). “This is affirmation that a mission to Mars is a go,” he said in a statement. “But as the report points out, we’ll have to give NASA sufficient resources to get this done.” Nelson’s statement doesn’t address the criticism of NASA’s current plans found in the report.

The criticism of the ARM was highlighted in a statement by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House Science Committee. “The NRC report also calls into question the Obama administration’s continued focus on the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), highlighting ‘an underlying concern that ARM would divert U.S. resources and attention’ from other potential missions,” he states. “The Committee has heard a number of concerns about ARM, as well as promising alternatives such as a flyby mission to Mars and Venus in 2021.” However, the report is silent on the 2021 Venus/Mars flyby concept developed by Dennis Tito’s Inspiration Mars effort, not including it in any of their mission architectures.

77 comments to NASA and Congress like the NRC report, for very different reasons

  • Dark Blue Nine

    The NRC’s “pathways” approach requires a 5 percent annual increase in the civil human space flight program for decades to come. It’s a fairytale report — nothing, not even cancer research, gets that kind of increase over that long a timeframe. The NRC’s strategy (and I hesitate to use that word) is as incapable of reaching Mars as the Administration’s ARM or Congress’s SLS/MPCV.

    No wonder everyone thinks the report is great — it’s as big a failure as their own pet projects and doesn’t threaten them.

  • Dark Blue Nine

    The contradictory, two-faced conclusions in this report are breathtaking. On the one hand, the report recommends “increasing NASA’s human spaceflight budget at more than the rate of inflation over many years” while at the same time concluding that the taxpaying public “is not very interested and does not support more funding” for NASA.

    We can’t have it both ways. Either develop a rationale that justifies huge increases in NASA’s budget, or develop a program that fits a relatively flat NASA budget.

    But don’t argue that NASA can’t get more funding and then predicate your programmatics on NASA getting more funding.

    Stupid, stupid, stupid.

    • DCSCA

      We can’t have it both ways
      Except we can. It’s simply a matter of leadership. If you wanted to wait for a consensue to race the Soviets to the moon, Apollo and the subsequent infrastructure, economic stimulus and technological innovations would never have occurred. It wasn’t a ground swell of the american people that launched Apollo anymore than it was the overwhelming consensus of the Russian people to lioft Sputnik; or for that matter, the burning desire of the German people ro give up their potato crop so alcohol could be distilled to fuel V-2s.

      • Dark Blue Nine

        “It’s simply a matter of leadership. If you wanted to wait for a consensue to race the Soviets to the moon”

        It’s not leadership. It’s an exogenous event (Sputnik, Gagarin) that forces the leadership to react with a major human space flight initiative (Apollo). No matter how good or bad today’s and future leadership is, there is no such forcing event on the horizon today.

        And even if it was a matter of leadership, how long are we going to wait for this messiah? And what happens when our messiah is out of office in four to eight years? This report requires sustained budget increases between inflation and five percent through the 2050-60s.

        Enough with the fairy dust. It’s far past time to build a program that fits the budget.

        • DCSCA

          “It’s not leadership.”

          Except it is. Be it proactive as in the case of Khrushcheev or reactive as in the case of Kennedy and LBJ. And Ike. Ike was not inclined to react to Sputnik overtly (particularly as the intent to launch it was telegraphed to the science community for IGY)as it verified Soviet overflight rights for his secret spy sat project in work at the time. The politics of the era forced the creation of NASA. And JFK was certainly not obligated to react to Gagarin in kind as Shepard’s Mercury flight was in work as it was and the primary goal of Mercury was ultimately orbital flight- achieved by Glenn a year later. The BOP fiaso helped foster a climate for affirmative political action by JFK who had ginned up a faux missile gap in his campaign. But it did not have to be a reach for the moon as the options presented are a mater of record. LBJ pushed for the lunar initiative out of politics. That was leadership- albeit reactive- and Kennedy carried the ball, then handed it off to LBJ at his death.

          “And even if it was a matter of leadership, how long are we going to wait for this messiah?”

          Maybe 2 years. HRC has a genuine interest in HSF. Obama does not. Or, maybe another 2,000 years. Galileo, Kepler and Newton were frustrated, too. A lot has happened already since 1903– let along 1957- at great cost in life, treasure and property. And for generations to come, the thrill of just beginning, as Goddard noted, awaits.

          The cosmos has been there for 14 billion years. That pressing on beyond what has already occurred since 1957 has been fairly successful in that blink of time. Still, as the late Pete Conrad noted, we haven’t gone very far. But given human nature, it is inevitabel we will. But don’t hold your breath that it will be American led, or NewSpace driven. The very history of modern rocketry is against it. Frank Borman once noed that peopel arent all that excitd about exploration. But they sure were interested in beating the Russians. The America of 1960 was willing to finance and compete. The America of today seems less inclined to do so. Before he passed, Neil Armstrong lamented to a friend that Americans have become a country that wants to be entertained. And Americans have seen and paid for a space show already.

          • Hiram

            “Frank Borman once noed that peopel arent all that excitd about exploration. But they sure were interested in beating the Russians.”

            Forgiving your typos, I think that’s exactly right. But the question becomes … what’s the game we’re trying to play, and who are we trying to beat?

            The game in the 1960s was technological exceptionalism, with missles in particular. My missle is better/bigger/faster than your missle, and I can target better than you can. We’re also braver than you are. The Apollo program was how we won that game. We had a mammoth missle, put humans inside an error box on the Moon (several times, for good measure), and had a storyline that was filled with courage. Again, lunar exploration was just a fancy paraphrase for what this game really was about. No one was up there really looking for anything.

            But the game is totally different now. I don’t give a crap about proving how good our missles are, and our concern about targeting accuracy comes out of our webserver marketing logs. As to generating courage, a war will do that for you (perhaps motivated by planes hitting skyscrapers). When our human space flight program started, our involvement in Vietnam was just escalating. We hadn’t seen real heroes in a while.

            So human space flight is playing an antique game these days. It’s a game that has importance to us because it once was important, and not because it really has self-evident merit. We honor our historical accomplishments by pretending that it is still relevant. We hang on the word “exploration” because we can’t think of anything else humans in space can really do, besides looking like Magellan or Lewis & Clark, whose accomplishments we want to honor. You’re so great, we say, we want to be JUST LIKE you! No, we can’t come close to discovering what you discovered. We have better ways of doing that now. But we can still try to look like you, manning “ships” and bravely carrying on, in spite of risk and discomfort.

            To the extent that technological exceptionalism is still the game, we need some new rules, with new equipment, that really bears on our national condition and especially our fears. Fear of someone else stepping on the Moon is not a biggie.

            • DCSCA

              “I don’t give a crap about proving how good our missles are…”

              Forgiving your typos [missiles] and my own vision ailments- it’s not about the missiles but the technologies across the board from America. It’s a valid point to question whether HSF holds any value or purpose in American commerce, politics and socoety. Clearly history has shown it has been a reactive venture from the get-go. Not so in other lands- particularly Russia and of late, the PRC. In the 21st century it may very well come own to america leading, following or simply getting out of the way. There are lots of reasons to do it- technical, political and perhaps spiritual– the famed Cernan ‘intangibles’ come to mind. but history shows Russia has incorporated HSF into its national character and maintained it through some harsh economic and political turmoil. The PRC is pursuing it with a vigor akin to the heady days of the space race. It’s really a matter of whether America wants to be a ‘me too’ land of follow alongs or a place that points and says that the direction to take. You know- leadership. Frankly, the america of 2014 doesn’t seem very interested in leading anymore in this area. Unless there’s a competition involved– and even that might not be enough today. Other nations who fawn over their fading glory usually find themselve left behind. Britain comes to mind. Certainly the 20th Century was the American century. The 21st, so far, not so much. The PRC is on the rise and Luna awaits fresh footprints from and for current generations who read about Apollo on their tablets mde in China.

              • Dick Eagleson

                Russia has incorporated HSF into its national character and maintained it through some harsh economic and political turmoil.

                Mostly because we were picking up the tab. I wonder just how much the Russians would have done on their own these last 20-odd years if Bill Clinton hadn’t decided that bribing them to stay out of mischief was a good idea? Given the decay of their armed forces over the same interval – which are even more a part of their national character and which we were, significantly, not paying for – I don’t think the Russian space industry would be in even its current questionable shape if we hadn’t been writing it checks.

                The PRC is pursuing it with a vigor akin to the heady days of the space race.

                No, they’re not. I was around for the damned space race. The U.S. and Soviet Union were launching multiple manned orbital missions per year during that period. The Chinese aren’t averaging even one such mission per year. They see themselves as eternal with millenia of history behind them. They see us as upstart mayflies. All they think they have to do is keep being slow and steady and they will win the “race.” They are quite wrong in all this, but that’s their attitude. They are hardly the first arrogant authoritarianism to underestimate America to their ultimate cost. They likely won’t be the last either. Or perhaps they will. Wouldn’t that be nice?

                Frankly, the america of 2014 doesn’t seem very interested in leading anymore in this area.

                Or a lot of other areas for that matter. Courage, lad. The current mini-Dark Age ends at noon on Jan. 20, 2017 when Washington, D.C.’s village idiot leaves office.

              • Jim Nobles

                ” The current mini-Dark Age ends at noon on Jan. 20, 2017 when Washington, D.C.’s village idiot leaves office.”

                I think that “village idiot” has done more for the American space program than any President since probably JFK. Bronco was not a space cadet but he did listen to the space cadets he hired and he did help get commercial space up on its feet and running.

                Perhaps you should consider the state of your own being before attempting to attach such labels to others.

              • Dick Eagleson

                I don’t deny the good things that have happened anent space policy on Obama’s watch. What I deny is that said effects were much caused by anything deliberate done by our Doofus in Chief. Space has done relatively well under Obama because he never cared enough about it to screw with it. It’s not really on his radar. He left it in the hands of Bolden and Garver and got on with what he really cared about, namely transforming America into a monkey copy of France. Any area of the American economy or government he did care to touch – health care, energy, foreign policy – has been rendered a shambles. Space was a comparatively insignificant beneficiary of benign neglect. We lucked out.

                The commercial space initiatives that came to fuition on Obama’s watch were not his creatures, they had been set in motion in prior administrations going all the way back to Reagan’s. Like Nixon with the first Moon landing, or Bush 41 with the fall of the Berlin Wall, Obama just happened to be the guy in the Big Chair when the crop sprouted. He didn’t plow and he didn’t plant.

                Of the two people most responsible for direct management of space efforts to this point on Obama’s watch, I’m inclined to give Garver more credit than Bolden. We won’t know for sure until upcoming decisions about Commercial Crew are made. If these are well-made decisions, then I’ll humbly beg Charlie’s pardon and accord him the credit. But the best thing Obama ever did for space policy was to largely ignore it.

          • Robert G. Oler

            DCSCA and others (Wind/Whittington) etc hope that historical circumstances that created Apollo will somehow form again are misplaced both in reality and history

            there are so many reasons this is wishful thinking but I will just name the top three;

            First we have just recently done our “Apollo program”….the Iraq and Afland wars were the modern equivelent of Apollo. They were a President taking an “event” and then extrapolating that into justification for a massive national effort. All without a lot of thought because the effort was made “exciting” In an historical sense. A lot of money was spent, a lot of effort put out and then at the end the same old result is that the nation is poorer (vastly poorer in this case) and there is nothing to show for the effort which in fact justifies it. And in fact with the exception of a very very small minority most of the nation has soured on the entire thing (and we are not quite done yet)

            Historically nations in general and the US in specific do not easily start “grand national schemes” after one has failed rather poorly.

            this coupled with the fact that the grand scheme instead of paying for itself is one of the contributing reasons that the nation is in a vastly worse economic shape then it was on Jan 20 2001. In large measure the money is not there

            SECOND with the possible exception of some unlikely Chinese military activities in space, it is hard for me to see how going to the Moon by the Chinese would mount the same sort of hysteria in the populace that is needed to turn an “event” into a timeline. JFK did it with Soviet space activities for a variety of political and then current events BUT also because there was at the time a geniune fear of Soviet military dominance in both the WW2 generation and the generation right after that..

            It is hard to see one or two or four Chinese landing on the Moon as being the event point for extrapolating that into a fear of the Chinese as military dominance with either the current (my) generation of middle aged voters or the incoming one. The Fox news generation would in fact probably move to that if stroked correctly.. BUT ON THE OTHER NEWT TRIED in the FL campaign and it fell pretty flat. Now Newt might have played his hand badly (he did) and he was pilloried pretty heavily by the rest of the GOP, people who could under other circumstances embrace the same policy ideas and push it (coherence is not a GOP virtue) ….however the Fox News generation is well dying and wont be part of the political scene in ten years at most.

            A lot of trust was placed in the Jade Rabbit as being something that would get Americans excited and it really did not even get ASians outside of China all that reved up. Space is not what it use to be.

            THIRD. Hiram said this pretty well so I steal his words “So human space flight is playing an antique game these days. It’s a game that has importance to us because it once was important, and not because it really has self-evident merit. We honor our historical accomplishments by pretending that it is still relevant. We hang on the word “exploration” because we can’t think of anything else humans in space can really do, besides looking like Magellan or Lewis & Clark, whose accomplishments we want to honor. You’re so great, we say, we want to be JUST LIKE you! No, we can’t come close to discovering what you discovered. We have better ways of doing that now. But we can still try to look like you, manning “ships” and bravely carrying on, in spite of risk and discomfort. ”

            I hope I dont spoil the spirit of your words Hiram…but this is well written.

            Humans doing something that robots cant do is still a big deal. Humans doing something that is not so much better that most people cannot envision robots doing them is not. Particularly at (Not Hiram’s words) a price point that is lavish and excessive.

            What is keeping human space alive is the industrial complex that has leached its way into the tax payer pocket. At some point either the nation will collapse and this will end or the people will rise up and take back their government and when that happens. it will end.

            Robert G. Oler

            • DCSCA

              it is hard for me to see how going to the Moon by the Chinese would mount the same sort of hysteria in the populace that is needed to turn an “event” into a timeline.

              Depends on how you read the climate and temperature of the current generation facing it. But given what we’ve seen so far, in all likely hood, you’d get a big yawn. JFK’s challenge was initially met with indifference until the ‘race’ was really on. And a race is, after all, entertaining. Before he passed, Neil Armstrong lamented to a friend that Americans increasing want to be ‘entertained.’ A passive mindset to be sure.

              • Hiram

                “Before he passed, Neil Armstrong lamented to a friend that Americans increasing want to be ‘entertained.’”

                If the federal budget is to be used for “entertainment”, the number of possible investments is unlimited. Think about what we could do! Movies, sports, symphonies, drama … Human space flight would pale in comparison.

                The “but it’s great entertainment” argument for federally funded HSF is really pathetic. Surely Armstrong was better than that.

              • Robert G. Oler

                If entertainment was the issue I cannot imagine why they would pick human spaceflight…it had even turned Americans off by the time we were mid Gemini.

                We already had our entertainment this decade. Iraq and Afland. RGO

          • Dark Blue Nine

            “Khrushcheev”

            “IGY)as”

            “BOP fiaso”

            “a mater of record”

            “let along 1957″

            “it is inevitabel”

            “once noed that peopel arent all that excitd”

            Enough with the illiteracy. Learn the English language.

            Cripes.

            • DCSCA

              Apologies for the typos Eye ailment. Still, the content was conveyed and understoodd. You simply advocate privatizing government and that foolish political stance was outed long ago. Ain’t gonna happen.

              • Dick Eagleson

                It’s already happened with ISS resupply. Assuming Sen. Shelby can be thwarted, it’s about to happen with ISS crew transport. It is truly a wonder of the age that this has come to fruition under an administration that resembles the U.K.’s post-WW2 Labor governments in most other respects, but there it is.

              • Jim Nobles

                “You simply advocate privatizing government and that foolish political stance was outed long ago. Ain’t gonna happen.”

                What’s being advocated is private enterprise. And it is going to happen. It is in fact happening right before our eyes.

          • E.P. Grondine

            Hi DCSCA –

            It looks to me like everyone here is unfamiliar with the work of Trevor Gardner with Eisenhower, Johnson, and Kennedy.

            Here is an introduction:
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trevor_Gardner
            but there was a whole lot more to it than that.

            There was work on a biography, but I do not know what happened to it.

            Thus the historical lessons from this period are mis-understood.

            Aside from that, we are just learning that we have a major problem which we had no idea of earlier, and space technolgies will have to be used to handle it.

            This information changes everything.

            It is my view that history is more than the stories we tell about ourselves, and that it can have very concrete uses.

        • SpacePort-Terra Spt

          “And even if it was a matter of leadership, how long are we going to wait for this messiah?”

          Your wait is almost over.
          Signed:
          Supreme Commander Lawson
          SpacePort-Terra

          “If outer space is mostly empty, it is our moral duty as humans to fill that emptiness with both our souls, bodies and imaginations.”
          - Supreme Commander Lawson

        • E.P. Grondine

          Hi DBN –

          “It’s not leadership. It’s an exogenous event (Sputnik, Gagarin) that forces the leadership to react with a major human space flight initiative (Apollo).”

          Yes, historically that has been true.

          “there is no such forcing event on the horizon today”

          I’ll have to disagree stongly with you on that.

      • Dick Eagleson

        It’s really too bad, I guess, that you are unlikely to ever be addressing the masses from a banner-draped balcony dressed in a suitably Graustarkian uniform as you announce your Heroic People’s Five-Year Plan for Lunar Domination. Too bad for you, anyway. The rest of us, less enamored of heroic fascist fantasies, will do our best to support the only people actively doing useful work to get America into space for the long haul – those “deep-pocketed New Space hobbyists” you like to rail against.

        • DCSCA

          Look, Dick. What commercial should be doing is actively supporting, encouraging and advocating a large, BEO government space project of scale to commit to a long-term establishment of a lunar base which government(s) can then contract commercial to service and supply. It’s a no brainer for long term HSF development in that 1., it forces a commitment which cannot be easily abandoned, like splashing space stations; 2., it gives focus not only to those intimately involved in the program, but the ‘rubes’ as you label the people who’ll pay for it, who can benefit from the ancillary technologies developed from it and/or aspire to paerticipate in this endeavor. 3. it gives commercial a bigger piece of the action and a firmer commitment and challenge which will ultimately expand their industry base, methods, procedures and hardware development at a faster rate then depending on free markets for financing or, as present day shows, the survival of the ISS as a faux destination, doomed to as Pacific grave; 4. It can be an instrument of national policy, projecting geo-political strength, resolve and economic prowess for the nations and firms involved. And in the broader scheme of things, it moves people off the planet for long term habitation of Luna as the technology matures fur the next phase– the trip to Mars– if the robotic missions even deem it worth the trip. that’s your HSF program for the 21st century, which is alrady nearly 15% over. For in this era, the data returned thus far seems to show no sound rationale for sending people to Mars. It; red and dry. Like Arizona. and a lot of that place remains empty right here with a suitable atmosphere in place. The robots are doing just fine without peole along. Right now, the focus has to be Luna. Whether that is American led remains to be seen but it may just be that the PRC intends to hallmark this century as theirs with fresh footprints along the shores of the Ocean of Storms.

          • E.P. Grondine

            Hi DCSCA –

            “doomed to a Pacific grave”

            The entire ISS can be moved, and it is likely that some of its components may continue to be used.

            • Dick Eagleson

              Quite so.

            • DCSCA

              “doomed to a Pacific grave”

              The entire ISS can be moved, and it is likely that some of its components may continue to be used.That’s debatable but it really should have been anchored to the floor of the Ocean of Storms– not headed inevitably to a grave next to Mir, Salyut and Skylab. Deke Slayton labeled it an aerospace WPA project. In a political sense, it was a Cold War project represent past planning for an era long over. It has no real fit w/21st century BEO ops. Suggest you revist the epilogue penned by Arthur C. Clarke to First Men On The Moon, published in 1969. It’s 40 page chapter that does a fairly good job of mapping out th next phase nd how government and commercial fit into it– save the manufacturing angle.

              but as far as the ISS goes- it’s a technical marvel that’s also an orbiting zombie which produces nothing to justify its expense and operaton in this century. And as a faux market, for commercial, it has a fate akin to the Mulberrys off the Normandy coast.

          • Hiram

            “For in this era, the data returned thus far seems to show no sound rationale for sending people to Mars. It; red and dry. … Right now, the focus has to be Luna.”

            Of course, it has been well established that Luna is grey and dry, which doesn’t sound a lot better than Mars. Now, the “dryness” for both the Moon and Mars may be alleviated by proper regolith processing. Robots could do quite well there on the Moon too without people along. So you’re not being coherent.

            Of course the NRC committee decided differently, which was that sending humans to Mars was the Ultimate Purpose of human spaceflight. Many agree, but think that putting humans back on the Moon needs to come first.

            But no, this isn’t about putting people places to do things, to you. This is about exercising geopolitical power, and doing that by planting people in far away places in an affordable way. There, people can twiddle their thumbs, stomp out footprints to leave their mark (easier to do than how dogs would do it) and give the finger to international rivals. That’s their criteria for success, and how heroes will be made.

            • DCSCA

              “Of course the NRC committee decided differently, which was that sending humans to Mars was the Ultimate Purpose of human spaceflight.”

              Of course Hugh Dryden was pushing that goal in March, 1964. Half a century ago.

              HSF is an exercise in geopolitics– about projecting power on Earth. That hasn’t changed — as the PRC well knows. Tht’s why governments do it– and why NewSpace has failed to even try.

              • Hiram

                “HSF is an exercise in geopolitics– about projecting power on Earth.”

                That’s what it would desperately like to be. Because it otherwise has little rationale for serving national needs. During the Cold War, it was an exercise in geopolitics, because of the missle threat. Putting humans on missles and demonstrating control of them was a powerful argument for our missle technology. But times have changed, and what makes a nation powerful in the eyes of others has little to do with shooting humans into space. The numbers speak for themselves. Our defense budget is a hundred times larger than our HSF budget. If HSF was important for projecting power, that number would be a lot smaller.

                In fact, with regard to technology in general, the investment of our nation in HSF is miniscule. HSF may be symbolic of an expression of national power, but it doesn’t really do that much.

              • Dick Eagleson

                As usual, you have your upside down glasses on. NewSpace is the only entity that is actually trying. NASA and legacy aerospace are mostly content to pursue result-free pork.

          • Dick Eagleson

            I sense we can agree, in a very general way, on the idea that our mutual major agenda is insuring the future dominance of American ideas of liberty on both Earth and in whatever extra-terrestrial civilization arises in space. Oh yeah, we also agree that, first and foremost, there should be such an off-planet civilization.

            You seem to be of the opinion that only an on-going large government program can do the job. I disagree. Such a spacefaring future culture – or sheaf of cultures – has to be based on self-sustaining economic fundamentals. Taking the Blanche DuBois approach and relying on the long-term kindness of the political class to provide endless subsidy is, unfortunately, a proven loser. It hasn’t proven possible for the U.S. and it hasn’t even proven possible for nations far more accustomed to being ordered around from on high like Russia. The PRC, should they make such an attempt, will find the same barren result.

            It seems fairly obvious that if, mirable dictu, one could suddenly cause colonial populations of even a few hundred souls to simultaneously appear on the Moon, Phobos, Deimos, Mars, Ceres, Vega, other places in the Asteroid Belt, in free space habs and on NEOs – along with suitable ISRU infrastructure – that a rich and spontaneous self-sustaining extra-terrestrial economy would explode into being. Since we can’t wave a wand and make this happen instantly, the question becomes, how can we get to such a point despite the numerous chicken-and-egg problems that stand in the way.

            I think the only way this happens is to rely as much as possible on the private sector. Long-term, extra-terrestrial civilization has to be self-sustaining. Private enterprise is the only mechanism by which this can be reliably achieved.

            That’s one of the reasons that “national greatness” is not likely to be a long-term sustainable motivation. Like the British North American colonies, one can expect future space-based outposts of humanity to develop idiosyncratic cultures that diverge in some ways from that of Earthbound America. That’s to be expected. So long as we heed the lessons taught so expensively to George III, we will be fine. Expanding the Anglosphere should be the objective, not imposing some cookie-cutter “Americanism.”

            Also like the British North American colonies, these space-based colonies would do the vast bulk of their trading with each other over the long term rather than with the mother planet. That’s okay. North American colonization was the best long-term investment England ever made because the free-standing cultures that developed there turned out to be damned helpful when rude strangers came knocking at England’s door twice in the 20th Century. Impossible to predict what Loonies, Belters and Martians of two centuries hence might conceivably need to do should a future U.S. get into a similar jam, but it would be nice if all these folks were ours by social ancestry rather than the scions of, say, The Middle Kingdom.

            So, given such goals, what does that recommend to us, policy-wise, in the near term? The prompt deaths of SLS and Orion for starters. Both are insanely, unaffordably, unsustainably expensive. Neither can meet its putative specifications. Both are duplicative of vastly cheaper privately developed systems that will be extant and operational in less than 24 months. To discourage the likes of Sen. Shelby from making more mischief of the sort he’s currently attempting, I also propose that the Marshall Spaceflight Center be sacked and burned, its inhabitants put to the sword and the ground sown with salt.

            Also needing doing is the repurposing of assets currently on the bubble, most notably ISS. A focused program of research on extra-terrestrial human factors needs to be undertaken soonest. If NASA can’t or won’t so this, then ISS needs to go too.

            NASA, in general, needs to embrace the COTS model for all future endeavors. We got the Falcon 9, Dragon, Antares and Cygnus into service for a total NASA expenditure of less than 5% of what has been and is slated to be spent in future on SLS and Orion, neither of which is close to operational. Hell, the total tab for the four CRS vehicles is only about 10% of what NASA has managed to piss away on the James Webb Space Telescope.

            But, mainly, we need to rely on the self-funding activities of commercial space companies. SpaceX is going to take most satellite launch business away from both the Russians and the Euro-socialist-mercantilists. Stratolaunch and Orbital will sweep up nearly everything that escapes SpaceX. New LEO satellite constellations aimed at providing broadband Internet access and/or imaging services could add materially to the size of the total launch services market quite soon.

            Bigelow will be putting up LEO modules for government (non-U.S.) clients, but commercial opportunities should surpass the foreign government market within a few years. This sort of thing is already ramping up on ISS. Bigelow should be able to accelerate this market further once they get rolling. Bigelow could also find a niche in the cislunar hospitality and tourism market by fitting out one of their habs as a LEO-to-lunar flyby or lunar orbital shuttle to compete with the Russian Soyuz-based service recently announced.

            Further down the road, Elon will go to Mars. Not everyone who buys one of his tickets will necessarily be looking to land and take up residence on the surface, however. I expect Deimos and Phobos to be settled by people who take advantage of the future SpaceX Earth-to-Mars infrastructure, but chose to live above, not in, the Duchy of Muskovy (sorry, couldn’t resist).

            • DCSCA

              You seem to be of the opinion that only an on-going large government program can do the job.

              In fact it has done the job. NewSpace has not. Government will always be involved if not lead the way. tthe largess of the capital involved; the global logistics, etc., all but make it a certainity. Even New armstron broached the subject in a presser back in 1989. Suggest you revisit the epilogue penned by Arthur C. Clarke to ‘First Men On The Moon’ published in 1969. It remains a viable assessment of how government and private insustry supplement each other in HSF ops. Alas, your Space X dreams don’t fit. See, you have to fly somebody. And they have flown nobody in LEO safely- let alone jaunts to Martian space. Clarke’s assessment is valid- private industry will never lead the way. Certainly not in this era.

              And there’s no guarantee it will be’American values’ fueling spaceflight, either. After all, Sputnik was not launched from Florida, Gagarin wasn’t from California and the PRC isnt red, white and blue– just red.

              • Dick Eagleson

                In fact it has done the job. NewSpace has not.

                NASA has said it would do quite a number of things over the past 30-odd years. With the exception of robotic probes hither and yon, it has mostly failed to deliver. NewSpace, in contrast, has delivered everything it has had time to deliver. It continues, pell-mell, to expand its capabilities and broaden the scope of what it can deliver. In 24 months or less it will deliver live human beings to orbit and return them safely. Perhaps the most relevant thing NewSpace has delivered is the growing realization that space doesn’t have to be insanely expensive. The fact that it has been until now is a consequence of the inherent wastefulness and bumbling of government, not an intrinsic characteristic of the pursuit.

          • Robert G. Oler

            DCSCA
            June 5, 2014 at 8:38 pm · Reply
            Look, Dick. What commercial should be doing is actively supporting, encouraging and advocating a large, BEO government space project of scale to commit to a long-term establishment of a lunar base which government(s) can then contract commercial to service and supply. It’s a no brainer for long term HSF development in that 1., it forces a commitment which cannot be easily abandoned, like splashing space stations;
            >>

            How silly you dont think a lunar base could be abandoned? Its easier then a space station in LEO …unlike the station which you have to mitigate debris on reentry a lunar base you just turn out the lights and close the door and go home. See the Apollo landing sites for how easy it is.

            the resst ofyour points collapse equally as fast. RGO

            • DCSCA

              “How silly you dont think a lunar base could be abandoned?”

              Didnt say that. Said: “it forces a commitment which cannot be easily abandoned, like splashing space stations.”

              And it is abaurd of you to even atempt to compare an Apollo mand site- which sustaine two people for a few days — to a fully configured lunar base operating year ’round. C’mon, Robert. You’re smarter than that.

              .

              • Hiram

                “it forces a commitment which cannot be easily abandoned, like splashing space stations.”

                I’ll remind you that Congress was well aware of the fiscal quicksand here. In the 2008 NASA Authorization bill (which is now public law), and in the height of Constellation, they pronounced that

                “As NASA works toward the establishment of a lunar outpost, NASA shall make no plans that would require a lunar outpost to be occupied to maintain its viability. Any such outpost shall be operable as a human-tended facility capable of remote or autonomous operation for extended periods.”

                So Congress wasn’t really proposing that such an outpost be abandoned, but they sure didn’t want to be stuck with the bill for keeping humans there. So the commitment you’re talking about is to remote/autonomous operation of an outpost. How’s that work, with your expression of “geopolitical power”? We’re so great, we can run an outpost by remote control! We’ll express geopolitical power by stationing brave American electrons there, and be committed to that proposition. We can give those electrons medals and a parade when they return.

    • Justin Kugler

      Did you make it to the conclusion? The committee was very careful to note, I thought, that those increases were necessary for NASA to continue doing business the way it currently is. They emphatically rejected business-as-usual in their final conclusions.

  • Mark R. Whittington

    Actually the report also says that there is no public opposition to raising NASA’s budget, so it is doable given the political will.

    • Dark Blue Nine

      The report explicitly states that public “does _not_ support more funding” for NASA. That is opposition.

      • Mark R. Whittington

        No, it’s not. One can be indifferent as well.

        • Dark Blue Nine

          Indifference is hardly a ringing endorsement, but that’s not what the report states:

          “According to data from the General Social Survey (GSS) over the last 40 years, higher percentages say we are spending too much on space exploration”

          More of the public wants to reduce NASA’s budget than wants to increase it.

          Try reading the report (this is in the summary) before spreading uninformed lies.

          • DCSCA

            More of the public wants to reduce NASA’s budget than wants to increase it.

            =yawn= Red herring. Same public that believes Elvis lives. Really a matter of how the question is prooposed. The country was pretty thrilled by the EDL show of Curiosity’s landing– for all of 72 hours. The “science” return, which remains dubious to be sure- not so much.

            NASA’s popularity peaked at about 60% toward the Apollo landings but spaceflight never has had a ground swell of consnsue from the ground up. Neither did the purchase of Alaska. Nor was the automobile embraced by buggywhip makers. When a country is blowing $2 billion/week on a war in Afghanistan, space is a bargain. There’s an astonishing number of teechnologies around people essential to their day to day life which can trace their genesis to the capital investment into the R&D to get the nation’s space program in the ’60s off the ground and on to the moon.

            If all you want is public consensue, then the Elvis searchers will want to have everything and pay for nothing. Americans loved the pride of the shuttle– just not the cost to fly it. It’s as American as apple pie. Or was that originally of German origin as well– like von Braun. ;-)

            • Hiram

              “There’s an astonishing number of teechnologies around people essential to their day to day life which can trace their genesis to the capital investment into the R&D to get the nation’s space program in the ’60s off the ground and on to the moon.”

              Same is true for the Vietnam war. Let’s have another one of those!

              But seriously, while capital investment in technology was essential to what we have now, the fact that it was invested in space was not. That capital investment wasn’t to go to the Moon. It was to show up the Soviets. That investment could have been played out in many ways. It is very much NOT a lesson for contemporary investment strategy.

              The trick is to know what historical investment lessons pertain to current decision making, and what don’t.

            • Dark Blue Nine

              “Red herring. Same public that believes Elvis lives. Really a matter of how the question is prooposed.”

              It’s not. If more voters want to decrease a budget than increase it, politicians are not going to increase budget over any sustained timeframe. This is even more true in the case of a very low-priority agency like NASA, where challengers can painlessly tar incumbents with wasteful spending labels when they do occasionally vote to increase the budget. This dynamic has been playing out in NASA’s topline for 40+ years.

              “prooposed”

              “teechnologies”

              “consensue”

              Take an ESL course for crissakes.

        • Explorer08

          That’s right. I ask people how interested they are in space exploration all the time. Nobody gives a damn.

    • Robert G. Oler

      If that is the case Whittington why did your hero Bush43 not do that? RGO

  • guest

    The report says “The program should be evaluated in terms of its ability to achieve a broad set of objectives as well as the efficiency with which these objectives are accomplished.”

    Unfortunately working inside the program I do not see efficiency. I see a lot of wasted effort, wasted time and wasted money.

    • Dark Blue Nine

      “The report says “The program should be evaluated in terms of its ability to achieve a broad set of objectives as well as the efficiency with which these objectives are accomplished.”

      The report itself fails on these measures. It claims that the only objective that can justify the human space flight program is footprints on Mars, which is hardly a “broad set”. And then it recommends a “pathways” approach that requires “hundreds of billions of dollars” and annual budget increases approaching five percent for decades, which is hardly the mark of “efficiency”.

      The report is a joke, regardless of waste and inefficiency at the agency.

      • Hiram

        “The report itself fails on these measures.”

        I think that’s exactly right. There are many (more affordable!) ways that human spaceflight can consider Mars as a destination, and this committee didn’t even bother to consider them. Serious operations from Mars orbit, in particular. I myself think it’
        s crazy, but some comments on the Mars 2021/Inspiration Mars idea, and its relevance to national priorities would have been welcome. If Mars orbit operations don’t serve national needs, please at least tell us why! The only thing that counted, in their mind, was footprints on the surface. That’s the NASA (footprints on rocks = exploration) line. This committee had the breath, independence, and wisdom to at least consider alternatives, evaluate them with regard to rationale, and broaden the discussion. They DIDN’T EVEN TRY. I had some high hopes for this committee, but they just fell flat on their face, not even serving their statement of task.

        Their main conclusion is that Mars has to be our ultimate destination, but we can’t do it. Gee, thanks guys. It’s all about getting more money. Of course, to NASA, that’s a delightful conclusion. Takes a lot of pressure off since, hey, it can’t be done unless we get loads more money! Congressional reps from space districts are delighted as well, because it’s aiming the money cannon straight at them. The HSF and Mars advocacy organizations have been saying exactly this for a long time, so this report adds little to that discussion, except a lot more solemn words.

        The six page section on “The Problem with Value Propositions” is one of the more hilarious parts of the document, where our nation is deftly excused from value assessment for human spaceflight. Well, they’re saying, that doesn’t really matter, ya see? That can be rationalized away. Oh, that section was twice as many pages as they expended on science opportunity, which was a section marked by lack of detail and handwaving. This is from a co-chair who is a planetary scientist.

        I have yet to read it in detail, but on skimming it, the report looks to be downright embarrassing.

        • Justin Kugler

          From what I’ve been told, they were not allowed to. They could not explicitly take SLS off the table because it was part of the program of record established in the 2010 Authorization Act. The best they could do was point out that the Emperor has no clothes. I think you overestimate how much independence the NRC actually had here.

          • Hiram

            Not sure exactly who you’re talking to here. Did you hit REPLY on the wrong post? No one in this thread was suggesting that the NRC report should have recommended taking SLS off the table, though I guess that might be implicit in a “this ain’t affordable” or nude Emperor decision.

            My point was there are many more affordable options to what one can more broadly call Mars exploration that may or may not use an SLS. They didn’t even think about those.

    • Dick Eagleson

      I am, and always have been, outside the program. But I see the same things. At least the windows are clean.

  • John Malkin

    We could have saved a lot of money and it would have been a better report if they just updated the Augustine report. The “why?” has many intangibles but the weight of all intangibles and tangibles together is compelling for Humans to expand into space.

    http://www.nasa.gov/offices/hsf/home/index.html

    “How will we explore to deliver the greatest benefit to the nation? Planning for a human spaceflight program should begin with a choice about its goals—rather than a choice of possible destinations. Destinations should derive from goals, and alternative architectures may be weighed against those goals.” – Augustine Report

    “Whatever space program is ultimately selected, it must be matched with the resources needed for its execution.” – Augustine Report

    “…there is now a burgeoning commercial space industry. If we craft a space architecture to provide opportunities to this industry, there is the potential—not without risk—that the costs to the government would be reduced.” – Augustine Report

    “Human exploration can contribute appropriately to the expansion of scientific knowledge, particularly in areas such as field geology, and it is in the interest of both science and human spaceflight that a credible and well-rationalized strategy of coordination between them be developed. Crucially, human spaceflight objectives should broadly align with key national objectives.” – Augustine Report

  • reader

    From the fricking report:
    The largest of the new commercial vehicles under development, the SpaceX Falcon Heavy, would be able to launch robotic missions to Mars, but it would have limited capabilities to support HSF beyond LEO, unless the U.S. committed itself to on-orbit assembly, replenishment, fuel depots, etc. Given the congressional mandate to develop SLS, this seems unlikely. Smaller launch vehicles currently in service or under development would be less suitable. This is not surprising given the very limited market for such capabilities and the fact that NASA is developing its own launch vehicle, the SLS, for HSF beyond LEO.

    Ergo, the problem is congressional mandate to develop SLS. Otherwise U.S could commit itself to a much better and more capable path.

    • Andrew Swallow

      Use the SLS for what it is – the biggest lifter in the world. The SLS could for instance lift a Mars Transfer Vehicle in 3 easily assembled parts rather than say as a 24 piece jigsaw.

      • pathfinder_01

        The problem is Congress is unwilling to fund anything to put on top of it because that would increase NASA’s budget therefore no Mars Transfer Vehicle, lunar lander or Deep Space Hab gets built.

      • reader

        3 assembled parts ? But ohmigod, that means on-orbit assembly which we just decided is not something that we can do ( ISS does not exist ) or want to invest in !

        Simple math says that 3 launch SLS scenario would be 4 launch Falcon Heavy scenario. Clearly, 4 is too risky.

        • Dick Eagleson

          More like a 5- or 6-launch FH scenario:

          3 x SLS = 3 x 93 tonnes = 279 tonnes

          5 x FH = 5 x 53 tonnes = 265 tonnes

          6 x FH = 6 x 53 tonnes = 318 tonnes

          But your point remains. Especially given respective production capacities. Michoud is supposedly able to crank out 2 SLS cores per year once it’s fully up and running. Three would take a minimum of 18 months to fabricate. Of course NASA’s only planning to buy SLS’s at a rate of one every other year. Saving up three for Mars would take four to six years.

          SpaceX’s current production capacity is about one F9 core per month. That’s supposed to rise to two per month by year’s end, but that’s still down quite a bit from the 40 per year they were talking about not too long ago. Still, I suppose SpaceX can get to two cores a month by the time Michoud is capable of cranking out any SLS cores at all. At that production rate, the 15 cores for a 5 FH Mars expedition would take 6 – 7.5 months to turn out. For a 6 FH mission, 7.5 – 9 months. If they actually get Hawthorne up to a 40 per year rate a few years down the road, of course, all of those numbers shorten up accordingly.

          All of this reckons without any accounting for the near-certainty that SpaceX will have long-since perfected reusability for F9 and FH 1st-stage cores many years before any Mars mission could realistically be mounted. At currently announced FH prices, a six-pack suitable for a Mars mission could be purchased and still yield change back from a billion dollar bill. Three SLS’s with 39 tonnes less combined throw weight would cost $6 to $12 billion.

          I’m guessing the NRC committee can do back-of-the-envelope arithmetic at least as well as I can. Being good politicians all, they would definitely not have put any such calculations in their report as it would reflect fatally on the “program of record” and that directly contravened their marching orders.

          • reader

            I assumed this is 70-ton SLS that is discussed in the report, and 50-ton Falcon Heavy. 70 * 3 / 50 = 4.2 or 5 launches including overhead of making the payloads smaller

            • Dick Eagleson

              Okay, I see where you’re coming from. Slightly different assumptions, but the same general outcome. Bottom line: FH can substitute for SLS pretty much across the board and can do so at vastly less cost and on far more realistic schedules.

      • Michael Kent

        There is no Mars Transfer Vehicle, and there never will be as long as SLS is the program of record.

        We can’t afford to develop it while spending $38 billion developing the SLS and $16.5 billion developing the Orion. Not to mention that it would take six years and $4.5 billion to launch those three pieces.

        It’s giant monster rocket or payloads. Not both. That’s been true now for 42 years. Why is that so hard to see?

      • An obvious lesson from the ISS assembly debacle. You would think more people would see this. Not on this forum.

        • reader

          By the debacle of ISS assembly you mean reliance on a single launch system that suffers from years long stand downs ? What ISS got wrong was designing US components to be ONLY launchable on a very fragile and experimental launch system, and NOT building redundancy and backups.
          Also, massive reliance on EVA ops to actually get the modules connected. This is one thing that we REALLY ought to learn from Russians and even Chinese.

          The problem with ISS assembly was it was designed specifically to give Shuttle a job, so they designed for Shuttle, instead of using the worldwide stable of medium launch vehicles that would have gotten the job done faster, way cheaper and more reliably.

        • Hiram

          You keep saying this, and you keep getting shot down in flames. You would think that you could see this debacle. Not on this forum. There are obvious lessons there, but I won’t go into them.

  • vulture4

    “The lower bound of the budget uncertainty, or flat budget, was not considered, as this condition cannot sustain any pathway to land humans on Mars.” … “The average time between crewed missions during the period between ISS retirement and the first Mars mission would be 19 to 28 months, depending upon the combination of pathway and ISS retirement date.”

    Obviously the conclusion of the report should have been that human flight to Mars is not feasible with the technology that is currently proposed.

  • Flawed Concept.

    Near Earth orbit activities, space stations, asteroid mining, lunar trips, in orbit ship construction all will advance the cause to Mars more than one big rocket and a one pair of boots dancing in the red dust in 2040. Near earth orbit activities also increase public interest as it becomes more relevant, cheaper, and actually achievable by the common person to get into space. Cheaper price to orbit? Not on SLS.

    I’m all in favor of a Disney World on the Moon or in a Bigelow in orbit if that’s what it takes to inspire folks back here.

  • James

    All great posts

    Prediction: Nothing will change.

    Analysis of Report: If the goal you have, you can’t afford, then you don’t move forward with the goal.

    There are plenty of ‘things’ in this world I’d love to have, like NASA would love to go to Mars.

    But I don’t have now, and never will have the funds for them. So they are off the table.

    This report justifies dismantling of NASA HSF post ISS era

    • Explorer08

      Yes. Right now it all seems to be toast.

    • Fred Willett

      This report justifies dismantling of NASA HSF post ISS era
      This is the real risk.
      Congress is unlikely to go on forever funding programs that never work out. Jeff Greason on the Augustine Committee pointed out that he had heard sources in Washington seriously talk about killing of HSF and he said he was afraid another failure after Constellation would be the end of NASA.
      Ironically the success of commercial space may be the final straw. After all if Commercial companies are actually doing stuff why continue to spend Billions on NASA who can’t?

  • Aberwys

    Is it really about money?

    Money is easier to explain than the current state of Mars science–big time life isn’t found much in the Atacama or other extreme environments. It’s small time life, if it is there. Mars2020, being cost-capped and not life-detection, is going on yet another rock hunt. Yawn.

    No money means we don’t go there.

    It does not necessarily mean that we don’t go somewhere else.

    Lunine’s history suggests interests other than Mars…

  • guest

    “This report justifies dismantling of NASA HSF post ISS era”

    I don’t think the report justifies this.

    I think the report says that we are already on a course that will effectively dismantle NASA HSF post ISS.

    The report says ISS has a finite life and that the Orion and SLS are not supportable or sustainable at one flight every 2 to 4 years, and with no other elements in the program, no ability to do much beyond an ARM, and no real reason for an ARM mission; actually it says that ARM buys you capabilities that are not needed for Mars. ARM is just something to do to bide time.

    In essence the report says that if the current plan is not changed then it will effectively end NASA human space flight in 10 to 15 years.

    I think the authors probably did about what they were told. and they provided plenty of information that says the current plan is not sustainable, not affordable with the current budget, and will lead to very little of significance. I think it hints that Orion and SLS were not reasonable choices to begin with. It states pretty explicitly that there is no NASA plan currently. No defined sequence of hardware or activities that gets us from where we are today to where we want to go in the future.

    Interesting; I saw at an all-hands yesterday, Gerstenmaier and his “plan”. He called it a plan. He even called it a plan supported by the NRC report, though the NRC report calls for a plan. Gerstenmaier’s plan is really just a cartoon with nothing explicitly called out.

    All of the JSC management said we are doing what it takes to implement the [nonexistent] plan. Of course the managers also said if we (the rank and file) knew of something they were not doing, then we should tell them.

    The more of this I see the less confidence I have that our management has any kind of grip on the situation. Remember most of these people fully supported Dr. Griffin’s ill conceived ideas. It has not gotten any better. I think they are all working to a budget they perceive to be too low to make effective progress. A more reasonable solution, and the one the NRC report calls for, is to establish a plan, with goals, destinations, activities, operations, and if not a specified schedule then at least a relativistic timeline, and then asking for the budget required to implement this. Its a chicken or egg dilemma. So far we are losing.

    Some of us, who have some experience, have told these managers in the past that they’ve skipped a few steps, like defining the requirements and defining the systems to meet the requirements, which is why Orion is a disaster and has been from the start. We were kindly told that if we were not part of the program then our knowledge and experience was not needed, and in fact a lot of the senior and experienced people have left as a direct result.

    So, whether the managers are admitting it and whether the most recent reports say it, NASA is already on course to phase out NASA-supported human space flight after ISS. They do not seem to be making any plans to change course. All of these managers will be retired when the great flail comes to its anticipated conclusion so they appear to have nothing to lose.

    Godspeed Elon Musk, the saviour!

  • guest

    Contrary to many of the opinions expressed here, I think the nrc committee said that while all prior panels wanted to go mto Mars and that some day current efforts might be focused on Mars, they very directly and carefully say that a human Mars landing may be difficult or impossible for a long time because of human health and technology requirements. The report certainly seems to recommend a series of progressivly more difficult missions aimed toward eventually getting people on Mars. In the interim there are a series of advancements each required or beneficial to the Mars landing.

    What I am amazed by is how, for station, NASA did its homework and recommended what it wanted and how to get the job done. Yet, for the last nine years, since Griffin, the NASA management seems to go along with anything and everything the incompetents suggest, including Griffin and Obama.

    This NRC appears to have quickly and effectively identified a short series of options. Maybe one of these people ought to take over as NASA Administrator and Associate Administrator of human spac exploration and Ops. The NRC in this case did the job that the NASA people owed us years ago.

    • Dick Eagleson

      I guess I’d have to say I’m in qualified agreement with you. As disappointing as the NRC report was, overall, it still manages to look pretty good when placed alongside the vacuous crapola, parochial agendas, score settling and schoolyard bullying that, with the notable exception of the Augustine Report, has passed for NASA “policy” in much of the recent past. With the signal exceptions of COTS and CCDev, NASA has been a black hole of administrative bloat and waste for at least three decades. Even the formerly fairly competent science missions have become infected. There is no cure short of radical restructuring and major amputations that will address these shortcomings.

      The NRC committee hints obliquely – and sometimes even a bit more sharply – that NASA is rudderless in a storm with no competent officers on the bridge. But, in the end, they were too unduly respectful of sacred cows and iron rice bowls, too many times steering away from places marked “Here Be Dragons” on the patchwork map they were given to navigate by.

      The biggest such failing was to avoid any significant analysis of missions not based on SLS. Given that SLS is the central and most egregious nexus of all of NASA’s other problems, this evasion all by itself guts what should have been the central task of the NRC committee. An examination of “solutions” can’t possibly produce useful results when it is enjoined, from the start, with addressing the single most severe of said problems and are, instead, told to regard said problem as the mandatory solution.

      It would have been nice to see at least one protest resignation from the committee over this issue, but these are all members of our current political and technocratic class. They were all elsewhere when the guts were being handed out.

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