Congress, NASA

Human spaceflight study co-chairs to appear before House Science Committee

Three weeks after releasing their final report on the future of human space exploration, the co-chairs of the National Research Council’s Committee on Human Spaceflight will speak at a hearing of the House Science Committee this week. Purdue University president and former Indiana governor Mitch Daniels, and Jonathan Lunine from Cornell University, will testify before the full House Science Committee on Wednesday morning to discuss their report. The two are the only witnesses scheduled to testify.

The committee’s report, originally requested in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act, proposed a “pathways” approach to human space exploration, in contrast to the “flexible path” model conceived by the Augustine Committee in 2009 and adopted in large part by NASA. However, the committee also noted that carrying out any of their proposed pathways (which, in some cases, would mean not landing humans on Mars until 2050 or later) will require increases in NASA’s budget at up to twice the rate of inflation for an extended period.

47 comments to Human spaceflight study co-chairs to appear before House Science Committee

  • Hiram

    Of course, House Science will fawn all over these guys, for concluding that footprints on Mars are the only credible goal for human spaceflight, and nod sagely at the importance of raising the NASA budget significantly to get it done. Then they will smile and make vague promises that will never get kept. What they won’t do is say, well, did it ever occur to you to think about what credible goals for human spaceflight might actually be affordable, perhaps involving Mars, if not footprints on that planet? Did it ever occur to you to come up with some constructive approach to human spaceflight that didn’t wallow in needed dollars? I mean, it’s nice to beg for dollars, but it’s also nice to be constructive. There’s nothing creative or insightful about begging for dollars.

    • Mark R. Whittington

      Actually boots on Mars is a common feature of just about every long term space exploration plan. The interesting aspect of the NRC report is that it all but advocates focusing back on the moon in the near term, IMHO a far more sensible idea than ARM.

      • Jim Nobles

        The interesting aspect of the NRC report is that it all but advocates focusing back on the moon in the near term, IMHO a far more sensible idea than ARM.

        Do you think the government is going to pay for an actual Moon program?

        I’m not a fan of ARM either but I think it was invented because NASA wanted to come up with something Congress might actually pay for. So NASA chose the absolutely cheapest mission they could. I don’t think Congress is even going to pay for that. I certainly don’t think they’re going to pay for any kind of meaningful Moon program.

        • There’s plenty of money to set up water and fuel producing outpost on the lunar surface if you at some point– finally end– the $3 billion a year ISS LEO program.

          Marcel

          • “There’s plenty of money to set up water and fuel producing outpost on the lunar surface if you at some point– finally end– the $2 billion a year SLS go-nowhere program.”
            There. Fixed that for you, Marcel.

      • Hiram

        “Actually boots on Mars is a common feature of just about every long term space exploration plan.”

        There are many exploration plans that have humans in orbit around Mars without bots on the surface. Perhaps on Phobos or Deimos. At least one that has humans in a loop-de-loop around Mars. Now, it is true that these are often advocated as human landing precursors, but the NRC committee payed zero attention to them. That was a step in a “pathway” that they simply blew off.

        I would agree that the Moon is far more sensible than ARM, but the attraction of ARM is that it is slightly affordable. A return to the Moon is not. ARM is formally not about human space flight, of course, but the associated ARCM is. ARCM was selected to check the “humans beyond LEO, doing something or other” box. The fact that what they’d be doing is largely unnecessary is beside the point, I guess. ARM, which involves a serious asteroid census, and a real effort at asteroid redirection, has some value.

        • ARCM was selected to check the “humans beyond LEO, doing something or other” box.

          Which makes me wonder why the Plymouth Rock mission profile was not considered more seriously. It is achievable within the limitations of the SLS architecture.

          • Coastal Ron

            amightywind said:

            It is achievable within the limitations of the SLS architecture.

            The SLS is just a dumb mass mover, so depending on the mass of the mission elements you don’t necessarily need an HLV.

            In this case the Plymouth Rock proposal requires spacecraft with capabilities that NASA doesn’t have, specifically a spacecraft that can keep humans alive for longer than 20 days AND come back safely from distances beyond the Moon. The Orion/MPCV of today can’t do that, and even the Orion/MPCV of 2021 can’t do that.

            The Plymouth Rock mission could be done with a mix of vehicles and existing technologies that can fit on EELV sized launchers, and for far less than an SLS-flown mission. But regardless what’s possible, Republican’s in the House aren’t interested in space, which doesn’t bode well for the SLS… or the Orion/MPCV.

            • NASA needs a dumb super heavy mass mover. Even if the SLS were used merely as a cargo launch vehicle to place 100 tonnes of water at LEO and 30 tonnes of water at one of the Earth-Moon Lagrage points, NASA and private Commercial companies would be well on their way to returning to the Moon and eventually venturing to Mars orbit.

              The deposition of water at LEO and the Earth-Moon Lagrange points for drinking and radiation mass shielding and for the production of air and fuel is the key to expanding human enterprise and human civilization into the rest of the solar system.

              Marcel

              • Coastal Ron

                Marcel F. Williams said:

                NASA needs a dumb super heavy mass mover.

                If that were true all of us would be able to point to funded payloads or missions that required HLV-sized masses that needed to be moved to space.

                But there are none. Zero. Nada.

                Oh sure, there are lots of plans that show how nice it would be to have an HLV, but the President and Congress have not funded those plans.

                So back to your statement, no, NASA does not need a super heavy mass mover, dumb or not, nor even a heavy mass mover.

              • Fred Willett

                Even if the SLS were used merely as a cargo launch vehicle to place 100 tonnes of water at LEO and 30 tonnes of water at one of the Earth-Moon Lagrage points,
                Water is easily divisible.
                100t on a SLS would cost somewhere between $500M and $3B depending on who you ask.
                100t on FH would cost $300M.
                There is thus no possible function for a SLS.

              • Dick Eagleson

                One little problem there, Marcel. The SLS is never going to be able to put 100 tonnes of anything into LEO, never mind 130 tonnes. The advanced booster program was canceled. So was the J-2X-based upper stage. Block II is now unachievable. Using what’s left in NASA’s kit bag, a Block I SLS will top out at 93 tonnes to LEO, a bit less than 3/4 what Saturn 5 could throw.

                Meanwhile, SpaceX continues to improve the Merlin 1-D engine. FH’s throw weight will benefit. SpaceX could also elect to build a twin-engine upper stage for FH. FH has plenty of stretch in it, while SLS keeps slipping backward. Not a good trend line here for The Rocket to Nowhere.

              • Hiram

                “NASA needs a dumb super heavy mass mover.”

                NASA might need a dumb super heavy mass mover that is halfway affordable in $/kg. SLS is not. Period. If I want to place 100 tons of water in LEO, an SLS is one of the dumbest ways I can think of to do it. So in that sense, yes, SLS is a dumb mass mover.

                As noted, though, NASA doesn’t need a super heavy mass mover because it doesn’t have any super heavy masses it can afford to move. Well, except water, perhaps. But real mission is going to use 100 tons of water in LEO, anyway? There are plenty of delusional missions that might, I suppose.

  • Jim Nobles

    A question for those who follow these types of events, is this some sort of theater or could something potentially interesting and useful come out of it?

    • Hiram

      Mostly theater. Though the body language of the legislators is of some interest. The NRC committee chairs were invited to testify FOR A REASON. It will be interesting to glean what Lamar Smith’s reason for inviting them is. Of course, this study was mandated in the 2010 Auth bill that came out of this committee, so the committee has some responsibility to hear about it. Smith will certainly have a point to make, though it may not be a significant one for human spaceflight. It may just be to express his leadership in House Science, such that he attaches himself to the esteemed report. To the extent there are criticisms of the report, it would be interesting to hear them.

      Buy hey, what’s not to like? Putting feet on Mars is wonderful, and we need more money to do it. Yay, hooray, rah rah rah. Of course, to the House majority who organized this hearing, our pathetic progress on human space flight is all the fault of the President. He needs to ask for LOTS more money for NASA, so then when Congress exercises fiscal responsibility and shoots down that request, they can criticize his plan.

    • Hiram

      I will add that the NRC report strongly endorses space cooperation with China which is, in fact, specifically banned by Congress, most recently in the FY15 CJS report language. I suspect some discussion of this will ensue. It would be interesting to hear how dead-set against that cooperation the Science Committee is. Perhaps curiously, the subject of China never appeared in the Authorization legislation that came out of that committee a month or two ago (nor four years ago). In fact, that latest bill says that

      “The President should invite the United States partners in the International Space Station program and other nations, as appropriate, to participate in an international initiative under the leadership of the United States to achieve the goal of successfully conducting a crewed mission to the surface of Mars.”

      Other nations, as appropriate? Hmmm.

  • Neil

    Double ‘yawn’. NASA and Congress are essentially locked together. Neither can achieve anything in the way of meaningful human exploration and even robotic exploration is becoming too expensive to provide any meaningful missions.

    Cost has to be addressed in the mix with capability before any exploration progress will be made.
    You know $8 billion for a telescope kills any other missions. Likewise $2 or 3 billion for a rover does essentially the same. You only get one or two missions ever 5 to 10 years. How does this sustain the research and knowledge base of the industry.

    HSF is the same with huge backholes such as SLS and Orion killing any hope of other hardware development. It’s a really sad situation and one I don’t see an end to so far as government-sponsored programs go.

    Cheers – not so much :(

    • Hiram

      “and even robotic exploration is becoming too expensive to provide any meaningful missions”

      What planet are you living on? SMD has a large raft of meaningful missions. JWST isn’t meaningful? MSL isn’t meaningful? Maybe you can tell us from this table which missions in current development aren’t “meaningful”.

      http://science.nasa.gov/missions/

      Granted, some missions have budgets that are pretty hefty, but that results in a smaller raft of far more meaningful missions.

      Now, for HSF, that’s another matter …

      • Neil

        Hiram. I didn’t say the robotic missions were not meaningful. I believe most are however cost is killing everything including them with flat and in some years decreasing budgets. Every time a new mission is developed it’s cutting edge, the latest tech., heavier, etc etc. I understand why but the result is the same. Fewer missions, longer timeframes, less sustainable work for up and coming scientists.
        Something has to change if the generational knowledge-base is to be maintained and enhanced.
        Cheers.

        • Hiram

          You said “robotic exploration is becoming too expensive to provide any meaningful missions”.

          I say, no, it isn’t.

          It is becoming too expensive to provide a LOT of meaningful missions, but the ones that it does provide are extraordinarily meaningful. So there is conservation of meaningfulness, I’d have to say.

          A larger number of smaller missions is of value for exercising quick response to critical science questions, and of value for training. But the meaningfulness index is a wash.

          • Neil

            Ok my bad. That is partly what I meant so thank you for the correction.
            However my other point regarding sustainability, I believe, still stands. Bigger missions and fewer of them don’t equate to necessarily sustaining a broad space-related scientific knowledge base.
            But this is a personal opinion and I don’t have any facts as such to back it up. Just seems logical to me.
            Cheers

  • James

    “…….will require increases in NASA’s budget at up to twice the rate of inflation for an extended period.”

    This report is justification to end NASA Human Space Flight, if Congress et al adopt its premise and refuse to fund NASA as specified levels called out in the report..

    And when the clarion call for more HSF $ is ignored – 100% chance probability – IMHO, and if NASA HSF isn’t halted in it’s tracks, then we get to see a slow motion train wreck as NASA HSF grinds out a slow death.

    • Hiram

      “This report is justification to end NASA Human Space Flight, if Congress et al adopt its premise and refuse to fund NASA as specified levels called out in the report.”

      Pretty much so. This was a committee that was chartered to explore the purpose of human space flight. What they came up with was Mars (period), and if you don’t fess up with more cash, you won’t do it. So their single ultimate goal for human space flight that they came up with was a destination (not a sensible goal in itself, eh?) that was not currently achievable. They ought to give this team a joker medal.

  • Jim Nobles

    We may be looking at the natural end of government financed human space flight.

    But if commercial can get going we might see government sponsored human space flight. One where the government, NASA, buys as much of the equipment as possible at lesser cost than they can make it themselves.

    That’s what I’m hoping for. NASA needs to build only that equipment that they cannot possibly get from a competitive private industry.

    NASA should never build another rocket unless it is truly experimental.

    • James

      “NASA needs to build only that equipment that they cannot possibly get from a competitive private industry”

      I agree totally. And what that translates into is that government won’t be building anything anymore. Private industry can build anything it wants to. If the Government funds private industry competition through Space Act agreements, there is no limit to what private industry can do.

      NASA Human Space Flight is dead.

      • Jim Nobles

        NASA Human Space Flight is dead.

        I hear what you’re saying but NASA could possibly have a credible human space flight program if they weren’t forced to pay insanely huge sums for the transportation and other equipment. I know it’s not NASA’s fault but if they were allowed to put everything out for bid they should have the money left to do something.

        It’s the politicians, they’re the ones screwing this all up.

      • Hiram

        “Private industry can build anything it wants to.”

        Sure, private industry can build anything it wants to, until the money runs out. That’s the big advantage with federal funding. It’s never quite enough, but the money never runs out. Private industry will build anything that will turn a profit, and one can have a ton of skepticism about turning a profit on sending people to Mars. While the scientific opportunities are great, Mars is actually a pretty crappy place to live.

        “NASA Human Space Flight is dead.”

        Not necessarily. But NASA putting human footprints on Mars in the forseeable future is dead. So let’s instead think about what could survive. Habs in cis-lunar space aimed at habs around Mars? Those could accomplish a lot, and are almost certainly more affordable than footprints on Mars. But no, human space flight is defined as footprints on Mars. That’s the party line with blinders on. As long as we’re dim enough to believe that, NASA human space flight is certainly toast.

    • What equipment has NASA ever built? The contract out for engines, stages, spacecraft, etc. NASA is more like a system integrator and operator. Rail against NASA if you must, but do so accurately.

      • Jim Nobles

        It’s the politics of it. We could probably get a SLS class launcher for well under $4 Billion. But we’re not allowed to do that. Instead we have to go the insane pork route. Think of the money wasted.

      • James

        You are correct. NASA contracts out the development of HSF hardware it develops. Lets call this “NASA led development”. Those days are over. NASA led developments, per the FAR, is the disease the is bringing an end to NASA HSF.

      • Hiram

        NASA often does the technology development on the hardware they later contract out for. The low TRL’s are NASA’s responsibility. Industry won’t bite on something that isn’t technologically credible. But as human spaceflight involves less technology stretching the role of NASA gets smaller. The evolution that we’re seeing is really where HSF is becoming less rocket science than it used to be. To the extent that happens, the door for commercial opportunity is flung wide open. The skeptics about commercial are those who can’t quite acknowledge that it simply isn’t as hard as it used to be.

  • Fred Willett

    I’ve felt for some time that NASA has not been going anywhere in HSF and this latest report just confirms it.
    Without a giant infusion of cash Mars, or even a return to the moon is out of the question.
    However “there is another” as Yoda would say.
    Commercial space in all it’s aspects continues to grow. While NASA’s budget is declining, or at best flat, The global space economy is growing at a rate equal to more than half NASA’s budget every year.
    More importantly the growth is exponential.
    The global space economy is currently >$300B a year (vs. NASA’s $17B) and by the time SLS is due to fly it’s first crewed mission will be $600B+.
    Somewhere along here Commercial space is going to break out in a big way. All that investment capital sloshing through the space economy is going to find expression in new, game changing investments that will propel us to the Moon, Mars and beyond.
    It may be SpaceX. (That’s what Musk wants) or it maybe someone else. But it will happen. It’s inevitable. That’s the power of market forces.
    Start saving now for your ticket to Mars.

    • John Malkin

      SpaceX has two big advantages over Lockheed, Boeing and other aerospace companies. The first one is the CEO wants to go to Mars himself. The second is SpaceX isn’t a public company. This means he doesn’t have to answer to stockholders or wall street. He can focus the company on his end goal.

      None of the congressional members expect to go to Mars. It is really about jobs and directing funds to facilities and companies in their state. Congress cannot see that expanding humans into interplanetary space can create new industries. The support infrastructure required to support thousands of humans in space would be enormous. Only private industry could provide it.

      Can you image our government funding every communication satellite and leasing to private companies? The economics would never work and the same goes for human spaceflight.

      This report and hearing are a waste of time and money but I’m sure it’s not the last. Of course even at best this is limited to a handful of humans.

  • Von Del

    This NRC group ought to be strongly endorsing several things, just as they endorse space cooperation with China.

    They ought to endorse NASA taking the lead in research, and once NASA decides the method or process, they ought to endorse NASA turning production over to commercial industry.
    They ought to endorse a specific pathway approach.
    Then they ought to recommend the specific budget level.

    • Jim Nobles

      This NRC group ought to be strongly endorsing several things, just as they endorse space cooperation with China.

      That’s true. They essentially endorse cooperating with Chine and that’s pretty much illegal. If they can consider that worthy of being put into an official report then why not endorse commercial as well? Good question.

      • Hiram

        “They essentially endorse cooperating with Chine and that’s pretty much illegal.”

        It’s illegal because Congress made it illegal. The fact that Congress banned cooperation with China has nothing to do with what is in this report. This report was mandated by Congress. Congress ASKED for advice. The advice was, get your head screwed on straight and permit cooperation with China.

    • Brian M

      I agree.
      If this NRC panel can recommend one thing they can recommend other things.
      This group took a stab at recommending China cooperation, but hedged on most other things, just saying there were a lot of possibilities on the pathways and the costs.
      They didn’t finish the job.

  • Do you think the government is going to pay for an actual Moon program?

    Unfortunately, no. That is why the half of NASA’s human space funding that is not wasted on SLS / Orion is headed in the correct (and probably the only possible) direction, given the funding likely to be available. (Though, I’m talking about the wider “flexible path” effort to use small, affordable missions using existing technology, not necessarily specific missions like ARM, especially those dependent on an SLS that may never complete development.) It is easy to make fun of trying to use technology that would help the comsat industry in human spaceflight, but that is exactly the sort of thinking we need if HSF is to go anywhere. (In this light, it’s worth noting that the comsat industry has kept our deep space capability alive in that it takes about the same energy to launch a comsat to geostationary orbit as it does to get elsewhere in the Solar System; without comsats, I think that what little deep space propulsion we have at the affordable end — not military — would almost certainly have gone away after Apollo.)

    Regarding Plymoth Rock, this is a lot more useful to the future than a Mars flyby, yet the most expensive missing piece of both (a habitat module) is similar. It seems to me that doing the latter could buy us the capability to do the former, and vice versa.

    – Donald

  • BuzzFan

    All the blame on congress or “politicians” is a bit misplaced and unguided. The problem isn’t that they all hate NASA or human spaceflight. Nor do most have since corrupt intentions of linings their pockets or bringing excessive bacon to their districts. The real problem lies with the public. They have allowed themselves to become so unattached and disinterested with space flight and exploration, that it’s next to impossible and political suicide to dump more money or justify making substantial changes. Public polls show that most people are content with NASA as is. They don’t want more funding, and they generally don’t care where we go or how we get there. There is also an incredible amount of blame to be passed on to Charlie and NASA administration. They lack vision and guts, and spend more time complaining and blaming than leading and inspiring. They need to excite the public imagination and prove necessity for programs like human spaceflight. How about sucking it up and going back to Congress with a plan that asks for less than they are alloted? Show innovation and frugality and a little less bitching and moaning. “Hey congress, our brightest minds came together and devised a way to achieve our human spaceflight goals, all the while maintaining jobs in your district and using less than the alloted budget.” It’s Bolden’s job to speak their language and understand the needs of key districts who hold the votes he needs to progress these missions. If he has to temporarily siphon money from other programs, so be it. Devise a phase out plan that combines budgets, works with other agencies, and collaborates with international partners and commercial industry. It’s time for a leader who understands how congress works and knows how to motivate them and soak their language, as well as bringing public opinion in line with a new and bold/exciting vision.

    • Coastal Ron

      BuzzFan said:

      The real problem lies with the public.

      Why would you blame the public for the inability of space enthusiasts to clearly outline the benefits of spending $Billions of their hard earned money on space?

      It’s Bolden’s job to speak their language and understand the needs of key districts who hold the votes he needs to progress these missions.

      That’s not the job of the NASA Administrator. Here is a relevant section from the NASA HQ website:

      The Administrator aligns the strategic and policy direction of NASA with the interests and requirements of the Agency’s stakeholders and constituent groups.

      If you don’t like Bolden, fine, but you apparently don’t even understand what his job is…

      • Hiram

        “The Administrator aligns the strategic and policy direction of NASA with the interests and requirements of the Agency’s stakeholders and constituent groups.”

        Exactly right. More to the point, this alignment is done as a part of Administration policy. That is, the alignment is supposed to help guide production of overriding policy, not create it. The value proposition for what we do in space may be suggested by the agency, but it is graven in stone by the Administration and Congress. So far, the White House and Congress have largely been out to lunch on this responsibility. To the extent that value proposition has to be developed to please certain congressional districts, it certainly isn’t up to Bolden to decide that.

        “It’s time for a leader who understands how congress works and knows how to motivate them and soak their language, as well as bringing public opinion in line with a new and bold/exciting vision.”

        Give me a break. There is no bold exciting vision. There are bold and exciting trips, and bold and exciting destinations, but no one can quite fathom what they’re good for. That’s the definition of “stunt”. It’s time for a leader who can come up with a vision that isn’t a stunt, and I’m sure not looking for it to be the NASA Administrator.

  • BuzzFan

    Sorry for some of the typos… auto correct on my phone is getting the best of me and it’s really late here.

  • John Malkin

    The committees set policy in the form a bills which than become laws for which NASA is obligated to carry out. Obama said he wanted to wait on heavy lift until we had a need, the committees forced Obama and Bolden to take SLS or loose commercial crew. I don’t think they should have made this deal but in an effort to get moving with CCDev, they took a deep breath and moved forward. (Summary)

    The committees continue to cut Technology development a requirement for deep space human exploration. These cuts caused Bolden to back off taking humans to a NEO and instead bring the NEO to Earth orbit.
    The committees also shafted President Bush when it came to fully funding Constellation before Obama was President. Note that the Committees approved Constellation until it was disaster and ran away not taking any blame. Instead heaped it onto an easy targets, Obama and NASA.

    I’ll agree that the general public is nearly completely disengaged because none of the propaganda via movies, TV and magazines for incredible space projects has ever come true. The public thinks they are just being fed a bunch of hype which the public is sick of being fed. However, the aerospace industry and advocate groups have had endless visions that remain unfunded and many could be done on the current budget. This is changing with “new space”.

    Congress itself isn’t to blame but the space authorization and appropriations committees should take all the blame for creating the NASA of today.

    The sooner human spaceflight is out of the government hands, the better.

  • John, The committees also shafted President Bush when it came to fully funding Constellation before Obama was President. Note that the Committees approved Constellation until it was disaster and ran away not taking any blame. Instead heaped it onto an easy targets, Obama and NASA.

    I agree with most of your post, but I don’t think we should take NASA completely off the hook. One of the key reasons Constellation failed was that NASA made it into something other than Constellation. The original concept of using upgraded versions of existing rockets to launch relatively small components to quickly establish interplanetary capabilities rapidly morphined into a complete waste of money: the development of yet another mid-sized rocket that the world did not need. Constellation achieved nothing because NASA (not Congress, not even the White House) managed to spend the money on, essentially, nothing. The Obama White House pulled the plug on this insanity, but Congress quickly put it back in another, slightly less wasteful form (in that, setting aside whether we need one, at least a heavy lift rocket is not something we already have in quantity).

    – Donald

    • John Malkin

      I agree with you that NASA isn’t off the hook but the problems with NASA are very deep and much of it is institutional. NASA management is caught in the middle between contractors and NASA centers with support from different congress members, all competing for jobs and money. Until this changes, NASA will remain deeply inefficient.

  • Hiram

    The Science Committee leadership sure isn’t giving anything away about their thoughts in it’s uber-brief hearing charter, except to admit that the long term future of human space flight is elusive.

    http://science.house.gov/sites/republicans.science.house.gov/files/documents/Hearing%20Charter%20-%20Pathways%20to%20Exploration.pdf

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