Congress, NASA

NRC co-chairs reiterate call for national commitment and sustained funding for human space exploration

Tuesday’s 90-minute hearing by the House Science Committee on the final report National Research Council’s Committee on Human Spaceflight broke little new ground about the report or its conclusions about where, why, and how humans should explore space beyond Earth orbit. The committee’s two co-chairs, Mitch Daniels and Jonathan Lunine, discussed the report’s conclusions as some members used the report to back up their own—and often negative—opinions of NASA’s current space exploration plans.

“The administration’s continued focus on costly distractions is harmful to our space program and does not inspire future generations to go into innovative fields in science and math,” said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the committee, in his opening statement, referring to NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) plans. ARM, he said, “is a mission without a realistic budget, without a destination, and without a certain launch date.” That is similar to past criticism he has levied against ARM.

The NRC report did not reflect favorably on an exploration “pathway” that included ARM, indicating that it contained a large number of technological leaps and dead-ends. However, the committee co-chairs were not, despite some questioning along those lines from members, critical of ARM itself, saying they did not closely study it while working on the report. “The task statement that we responded to in our report did not include a detailed assessment of the ARM,” Lunine said in response to a question on it from Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL). “We did not conduct a scientific or technical assessment of the ARM, specifically.”

While some Science Committee members, like Smith, seemed willing to lay the blame for the current state of NASA human spaceflight efforts at the feet of the Obama Administration, the witnesses stayed above any partisan fray, arguing that any lack of direction in human space exploration has roots that go back far deeper. Language in the report, Daniels said, was “meant to refer not to any one administration, but really to a persistent pattern now, and I think we speak in terms of decades.”

Members also pressed Daniels and Lunine on the costs of the proposed pathways that would get humans to Mars. The report was deliberately vague about it, other than stating the need for spending increases above the rate of inflation, as well as a greater use of international partnerships, points the co-chairs emphasized in their testimony. “I think that, quite properly, the committee didn’t want to go beyond expressing bands and ranges” for the costs of mission architectures, Daniels said when asked by Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) for a “ballpark” budget estimate. “The ultimate budget would be driven by the pathway chosen” and that the committee “didn’t want to commit the sin of false precision.”

Edwards sounded a little frustrated by that response. “I don’t think we want NASA committing to those sins, either, but we do have to have a budget from the Congress,” she responded. As they stated at the rollout of the report earlier in the month, Daniels and Lunine said during the hearing that the total costs of achieving the “horizon goal” of landing humans on Mars would run into the hundreds of billions of dollars over several decades.

One issue the witnesses emphasized throughout the hearing was the importance of a long-term commitment from government and the American public for an exploration pathway, including the budget increases the committee concluded were needed to carry out the missions in that path in a “reasonable” period. (Daniels and Lunine didn’t define “reasonable,” but the example pathways included in the report have people landing on Mars some time between the late 2030s and mid 2050s.) “If there is not that strong national commitment, then it’s going to be difficult to pull off human exploration missions into deep space at all,” Lunine said.

The report, though, doesn’t discuss how to develop and sustain such a long-term commitment, only that one is necessary. “We recognize that calling for an approach like this flies in the face of everything back to the ’70s,” Daniels said. “But we also say that if it seems unrealistic to believe that sort unity and that sort of continuity could be brought off in our system, then we might as well face up that Mars itself is unrealistic.” He added in what he acknowledged was “wild, wishful thinking” that such sustained support for space exploration could be an area of cooperation for people who “disagree strongly and sincerely” about other issues.

Some members mentioned one of the more controversial aspects of the report that did not deal with exploration destinations and pathways: its finding that greater international cooperation should also include China. Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) expressed concerns about intellectual property theft should China be involved in future space exploration efforts. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) drew an historical analogy. “What if someone said in 1937, ‘We really want to develop this rocket to go to the Moon and this guy over there in Germany really has got a good rocket program. Maybe we should cooperate with him.'”

“The committee recognized how difficult and complex this subject is,” Daniels responded. “Remember the incredible timeframes over which we’re talking. Countries that are friends today with might not be friends in 2040 or 2050, which might be as soon as we can get there in the best of circumstances. And vice versa.”

88 comments to NRC co-chairs reiterate call for national commitment and sustained funding for human space exploration

  • Robert G. Oler

    No one is going to Mars as long as the cost is so high and the “value” of uncrewed programs increases at a faster rate every year…and meanwhile we plod along building SLS and Orion two programs that are the F-35 of space. RGO

  • It is not worth hundreds of billions of dollars over several decades to land a few humans on Mars. I’d be very disappointed in this report if I’d had any expectations for it.

    • Egad

      hundreds of billions of dollars over several decades

      For many believable values of “hundreds” and “several”, say in the range of three to five for both, that translates into an average cost of 6 to 16 billion dollars a year sustained for thirty to fifty years. Adjusted for inflation, of course.

      We need a paradigm shift here.

      • ken anthony

        …or we could use a very old paradigm: Buy a ticket from a company that includes baggage and doesn’t care what you do after you exit the vehicle on mars. That baggage includes trade goods (personal property) that are potentially worth millions (just in transportation surcharge whatever its composition) in trade with earlier colonists that are self sustaining on the fundamental life support requirements of power, water and food (power and water provide oxygen.)

        The MCT rapidly brings that ticket price down to about $5m per person and perhaps down to Elon’s goal. It’s not hundreds of billions or even a single billion.

        Before the MCT, $250M per colonist or less should do it with ticket prices rapidly falling but always providing a profit to the ticket seller. This we could do now if it were important to those that could afford it.

  • Rand: It is not worth hundreds of billions of dollars over several decades to land a few humans on Mars.

    I agree. Which is why we should be spending our money consolidating our position in cislunar space. Make sure the ISS sticks around a little longer with or without Russian help, encourage commercial transportation to that destination, encourage commercial outposts and refueling stations to replace ISS and serviced by the new commercial vehicles, and relatively inexpensive things like ARM to give purpose to the whole enterprise. (I do not agree with the general concensus that ARM developes no useful skills. Also, it’s interesting that Lamar Smith considers ARM expensive. Cancel SLS, and a lot of things become affordable, maybe even the lunar base most people agree would be useful.)

    — Donald

    • Robert G. Oler

      Donald the problem that the country is having across the board right now is that the money spent by Uncle Sam is going to preserve the institutions of the past, when we really need new thinking and institutions. this is because of the various industrial complexes which exist solely to do things like SLS…what they do is not important. RGO

  • Egad

    ARM, he said, “is a mission without a realistic budget, without a destination, and without a certain launch date.”

    To be contrasted with SLS, which is a vehicle without a mission, without a destination, without a meaningful budget, without payloads other than Orion, and with totally notional launch dates that are too infrequent to support safe operation.

    You have to wonder if Mr. Smith and others on the committees listen to what they themselves are saying, have much sense of self-awareness at all.

    • James

      “You have to wonder if Mr. Smith and others on the committees listen to what they themselves are saying, have much sense of self-awareness at all”

      Self awareness in a politician is as useful as a hammer at a screw convention.

      Self awareness in a politician is grounds for impeachment.

      Self awareness in a politician is as difficult to achieve as a rationale for NASA human space flight.

  • Coastal Ron

    As they stated at the rollout of the report earlier in the month, Daniels and Lunine said during the hearing that the total costs of achieving the “horizon goal” of landing humans on Mars would run into the hundreds of billions of dollars over several decades.

    Congress funds activities without end dates all the time. The NIH had no idea how much it would cost to find a cure to AIDS or cancer when they first started concentrating on them, and they still don’t after decades of research and testing.

    However there has been strong support for finding a cure for AIDS and cancer, so enough politicians do make sure that research is funded. But we apparently are not there yet on doing things in space beyond LEO. And I’m not saying our politicians are wrong on that, as polls show that going to Mars is not a vital national issue, but it does help to understand why funding for NASA has not yet been enough to leave LEO yet.

    But we also say that if it seems unrealistic to believe that sort unity and that sort of continuity could be brought off in our system, then we might as well face up that Mars itself is unrealistic.

    Yep. Which is why more and more people are starting to believe that Elon Musk might actually make it to Mars before NASA does, regardless when he gets there.

    Even if NASA were to get a small increase in budget and was allowed to cancel the unneeded HLV and the wimpy capsule, it would still take decades of effort in order to be ready to go to Mars in a way that we expect NASA to go – in a big way.

    How do we sustain political support for such a long period of time? I don’t think anyone knows the answer to that, which means that Mars is not yet a realistic goal for NASA at this time.

    • Crash Davis

      “Yep. Which is why more and more people are starting to believe that Elon Musk might actually make it to Mars before NASA does, regardless when he gets there.”

      You mean more and more people as in you and dimwits like Simberg.

      How about Elon being able to launch a simple launch vehicle without 9 month delays? And you think he will get to Mars. Hilarious.

      • Coastal Ron

        Crash Davis said:

        How about Elon being able to launch a simple launch vehicle without 9 month delays?

        Well first of all this particular vehicle has only been experiencing delays since May, which according to the accepted way of doing math is not 9 months ago. And I’m sure you’re not going to somehow say how NASA has been so much better than SpaceX, since the Shuttle experienced not only days and months delays, but years after they had accidents.

        And you think he will get to Mars.

        No doubt you said the same thing before they launched their first Falcon 1

        No doubt you said the same thing before they launched their first Falcon 9

        No doubt you said the same thing before they launched their first Dragon

        No doubt you said the same thing before they launched their first Grasshopper

        No doubt you said the same thing before they launched their first Falcon v1.1 and the 1st stage landed softly in the ocean

        So yes, considering the pace of hardware progress SpaceX has been doing, and the lack of progress with NASA because of Congressional interference, I do think that SpaceX is more likely to reach Mars first than NASA.

          • Crash Davis

            “Well first of all this particular vehicle has only been experiencing delays since May, which according to the accepted way of doing math is not 9 months ago.”

            Wrong as usual Ron. Read this and go back in your hole.

            “In October 2012, a prototype OG2 satellite was stranded in the wrong orbit when the Falcon 9 launch vehicle suffered a failure of one of its nine engines. The spacecraft re-entered the atmosphere four days after launch.

            This mission has been delayed multiple times. According to Spaceflightnow.com’s launch schedule page, the flight has been “delayed from September, November, April 30, May 10, May 27, June 11 and June 12.”

            Aren’t you sick of being schooled continually and then lying to try and prove your misguided and biased points? Even you can use the internet to gather information.

            I look forward to more lying and biased and unproven information from you. Get a grip.

  • Coastal Ron: in a way that we expect NASA to go – in a big way.

    Which, in a nutshell, is the problem. If you have small budgets to achieve big things, you have to either give up, or try to split up the big things and fit them into small budgets. The original, original Constellation, and Lorie Garver’s plan before Congress got ahold of it, are still the best, and probably only, ways to go: launch components of interplanetary craft and bases on Delta-IVs (or, today, Falcon Heavies), assemble them in orbit, and GO. Spend your money on what you want to do, not playing with big rockets, especially since we have perfectly good transportation right now that is not costing HSF a cent to develop or keep in business.

    Sure, it is riskier (or might be: there are advantages to proliferation of small components), but if we insist on going in complete safety, we will never go at all.

    If both GW Bush and Lorie Garver agree on something, maybe it’s time to listen.

    — Donald

    • Coastal Ron

      Donald F. Robertson said:

      Which, in a nutshell, is the problem. If you have small budgets to achieve big things, you have to either give up, or try to split up the big things and fit them into small budgets.

      Agreed. And I favor returning NASA back to it’s NACA roots, where it was supporting the private sector.

      Now so far there isn’t a business case to be made for getting to Mars, and Musk is going there as part of a personal quest (no doubt many of his employees agree with that quest too), but the U.S. Government has used the private sector to lead the way before while providing direct and indirect support.

      One theme that seems to be prevalent is that we must to to X SOON! But in reality we don’t really need to go anywhere in space SOON! However that does require a different funding model than what NASA is using today, although not too different than what they are doing with COTS and Commercial Crew.

      But what I think is needed is that a path needs to be agreed upon, and then sustainable infrastructure needs to be created along that path. For instance, we are close to having a partially reusable crew & cargo transportation system to LEO, and the next logical transportation segment would be to create a reusable transportation system to the region of the Moon and Lagrange points.

      Just like cargo and crew to LEO, NASA doesn’t need to own and operate the transportation segments, but it can provide financial and engineering support to put it in place – and then NASA can get to the region of the Moon and Lagrange points by just purchasing a ticket! Direct financial support is decreased as demand increases, which means NASA can afford to push on to the next transportation segment or technical challenge. All within a flat budget environment.

      Eventually we will have made getting to Mars such a small effort from a transportation standpoint that transportation no longer is the bottleneck, and resources can be focused on the issues that are still holding us back (i.e. human survival factors, budget, etc.).

      Unfortunately big aerospace wants large contracts that lock them in for long periods of time, so it’s difficult to separate NASA from the old ways of doing things and on to more affordable ways that provide faster results. And I’m not sure anyone knows how to solve that problem yet…

      • Coastal Ron: One theme that seems to be prevalent is that we must to to X SOON! But in reality we don’t really need to go anywhere in space SOON!

        Well, other than the fact that I’d like to see it at least begin to happen and I am no longer a young man, I agree. “Soon” should not be one of our criteria – it will take thousands of years to colonize the Solar System, all I want or expect to see is for it to get started.

        I fully agree with the rest of your analysis, especially the comment about making Mars easy by doing up-front investment first.

        . . . it’s difficult to separate NASA from the old ways of doing things and on to more affordable ways that provide faster results. And I’m not sure anyone knows how to solve that problem yet

        Actually, I think we have already solved it. Even while SLS / Orion is eating half the budget, and ISS most of the rest, COTS can now be declared a success (that would be true even if one of them was to blow up tomorrow). We have two semi-commercial freighters operational to Earth orbit. CCtCAP is showing every sign of succeeding. Let’s keep the ISS going a little longer and let COTS / CCtCAP play out for a few decades and see where we’re at (remember, “soon” is not what we’re after, but rather “comprehensive” and “successful”). If we can keep Congress from reducing commercial crew to a single contractor (especially if that contractor is Boeing), we might even be able to declare victory and move on to the next fight.

        As for that, I propose a refueling capability and station in cislunar space from which to stage asteroid and PhD missions — which has the added advantage of providing a second market for the COTS folks.

        — Donald

  • wodun

    “How do we sustain political support for such a long period of time? I don’t think anyone knows the answer to that, which means that Mars is not yet a realistic goal for NASA at this time.”

    Sadly, it appears that it is the perfect destination for NASA to focus on. It will always need funding and because any success is decades out there will never be any accountability. Always on our way but never making any progress. A lot of people will get rich though.

    • ken anthony

      Government can only screw things up like it does with everything else. The few dozen that live on mars can be totally self governing. How ridiculous is it to think they need the mass of government 20 light minutes away to tell them what to do???

      Free independent settlers with their own lives on the line will make the best decisions for themselves and the future of mars (without any terraforming nonsense. They terraform one underground mall at a time. Or several because each being independent, they can.)

      • Hiram

        “The few dozen that live on mars can be totally self governing. How ridiculous is it to think they need the mass of government 20 light minutes away to tell them what to do???”

        I agree. And how ridiculous is it to think that a government should spend taxpayer money to set up a colony that will behave that way? Yep. That’s why Congress is not at all interested in colonizing other planets. That’s a major national policy point that HSF advocates, driven as they are by science fiction novels, totally ignore. We’re building an SLS to set up colonies on other worlds? Yeah, sure. A few dozen trying to achieve self sufficiency, thumbing their nose at the Earth? A few dozen genomes, hoping to sustain the human species? Fat chance. Big fat chance. They can self-govern themselves into non-existence.

        Free independent settlers with their own lives on the line will make the best decisions for themselves about how they’re going to pay to get to Mars. You’ll see them on the street, holding their cans looking plaintive, and trying to avoid getting mugged.

    • Hiram

      “It will always need funding and because any success is decades out there will never be any accountability.”

      Let’s not forget that, to NASA, Mars will always get funding. It’ll just never get what it really needs to do it. But that funding will pay lots of people to plod along, and valiant supporters will get reelected by those people.

  • Brian M

    I think NASA is already getting the stable budget they say they need.

    ARM, as pointed out in the NRC report and by today’s presenters, is not particularly useful in getting anyone to Mars.

    A flags and footprints mission is not what is needed. THe NASA Chief Scientist, Ellen Stofan recently said that the goal is colonization.

    If that is the case, then the NRC report points out that the Moon, in situ resources, and long term habitability are all the principal goals.

    • ken anthony

      The main drawback of the moon is it’s too close making it unlikely to achieve independence in any short term time frame. The main reason for colonizing space is to cut the apron strings. Only a place with all resources in walking distance or less available equally to all achieves this. Only mars, in our solar system, has those features.

  • Countries that are friends today with might not be friends in 2040 or 2050

    Let the starry-eyed Sinophiles take note of this. If China or Russia wants to collaborate in space in the future they must do so as liberal democracies. We see how little political leverage ISS gave us.

    • Coastal Ron

      amightywind said:

      We see how little political leverage ISS gave us.

      The lesson from what we’re experiencing with Russia on the ISS is not that we should never do international partnerships, but that we should always have options in case a partner plans to stop participating.

      In this case we’ve know for decades that we’ve been wholly dependent on Russia for keeping our personnel at the ISS, so if anything it’s been people against creating an American commercial crew transportation system that have emboldened Putin.

      In a similar vein, relying on a single-point-of-failure transportation system (i.e. the SLS) is committing the same sin, including making space exploration “too fragile” in case the inevitable accident happens, and ostracizing our closest allies and space partners.

      As it is in business and politics, it’s better when you have friends in other countries than when you don’t…

      • In a similar vein, relying on a single-point-of-failure transportation system (i.e. the SLS) is committing the same sin

        How silly. That’s like saying Southwest Airlines is at risk for relying solely on 737’s.

        Redundant major launch systems is the dumbest idea I’ve heard since the 1990’s. They are not going to happen, nor should they. The shuttle was down several times because of obvious engineering design flaws: SRB joint thermal performance, parallel staging, wire chaffing. None of these flaws is likely to reappear in SLS. Lesson: fly solidly engineered vehicles.

        but that we should always have options in case a partner plans to stop participating.

        Doesn’t it make more sense to avoid tie-ups with obviously capricious partners?

        • Jim Nobles

          Redundant major launch systems is the dumbest idea I’ve heard since the 1990′s.

          Remember you said that. Falcon Heavy will be online before ya’ know it.

        • Coastal Ron

          amightywind said:

          That’s like saying Southwest Airlines is at risk for relying solely on 737′s.

          Southwest would tell you that they do risk the chance of a fleet-wide issue that would ground every 737, but the difference here is that 737’s are reusable and they are a very mature design – the SLS is neither of those.

          Redundant major launch systems is the dumbest idea I’ve heard since the 1990′s. They are not going to happen, nor should they.

          Well the Air Force would disagree with you obviously, and for good reasons.

          You know, it’s hard to tell from looking at what you write that you are a capitalist, and there would be good arguments to be made that you are not a capitalist – you just don’t celebrate the diversity of the marketplace that makes capitalism so vibrant and dominant over other economic systems.

          The shuttle was down several times because of obvious engineering design flaws: SRB joint thermal performance, parallel staging, wire chaffing. None of these flaws is likely to reappear in SLS. Lesson: fly solidly engineered vehicles.

          At the heart of the issues with the Shuttle was a flawed management system, and there is little evidence that the lessons of the past can’t happen again in the future with such a government-run system. Commercial transportation may not be perfect, but the challenge with the SLS if it ever becomes operational is that there is so little to fly on it that every flight becomes a pressure cooker of competing demands – which is what led to the two Shuttle accidents.

          There is no known need for the SLS, as Congress has been proving every year since it mandated that it be built, so the sooner it cancelled the sooner we can move on to more efficient commercial transportation systems.

          Capitalism – it’s not just for breakfast!!

          • Vladislaw

            Windasovich has always been a Stalinist big government solutions kind of person. He never spouts capitalism or posts about predominat capitalists in history. It is always anti capitalism.

  • Hiram

    So what this committee is saying, rather blithely, is that NASA needs to have a budget increase of a few percent over inflation every year to achieve a priority goal. So, um, we’re going to be looking at a $30B (2014 dollars) budget for NASA in a few decades? Whoa. We’re talking Apollo program now. The legislators at the hearing were sure getting scared about that. How much, they kept asking, is it going to cost?

    But the real tragedy of this committee is that their principal “horizon goal” for human spaceflight in this nation became a destination. Not any real tangible or clearly useful accomplishment. Sure, if the goal was colonization in the interest of species insurance, it might be arguably credible. Though I remain skeptical about the value, and evidently Congress does as well. Ellen Stofan speaks for herself. Or maybe there is some pot ‘o gold or unobtainium on Mars we need to control? Or if it was for some measurable purpose, unlike “inspiration” or “American exceptionalism” (except, no, it wouldn’t even be a strictly American accomplishment, we’re told). But no. This several hundred billion dollar goal we’re looking at is simply a place, we’re told. Take that, America.

    Of course, with this kind of logic, one wonders what the horizon goal would be after we set foot on Mars. Well, let’s get back to their “enduring questions” — how far from Earth can humans go? Um, I guess that should “endure” us all the way to Jupiter maybe? We’d be asking ourselves why, presumably, all the way there.

    I completely agree that several hundred billion dollars just to put feet on Mars is a colossal waste of taxpayer money, and this committee couldn’t face up to that conclusion. They didn’t try to think outside the box, but were content to roll around in it.

    That being said, fulfillment of personal dreams is never a colossal waste, if it doesn’t involve taxpayer money. That’s where Elon has a big advantage. Deep pockets buy big dreams. Go Elon!

    Oh, about ARM. As an asteroid redirect mission (which is identically what ARM is) it’s great. It’s about diverting dangerous objects, though bagging them is certainly a pretty useless capability. As to sending humans to caress that “kidnapped” asteroid, that’s just nuts, and in no way is a sensible strategy to get humans anywhere. I mean, riding a bike can be spun as giving skills to help learn how to drive a car (the world goes by fast, in both cases), but it’s a pretty crappy way to learn how to drive a car.

  • Mark R. Whittington

    I rather liked the money quote.”Do we want to go to Mars or not?” The adults just told us that if we want space exploration we need to pay for it. Sitting around and wishing and arguing about it will not get us there.

    • James

      Yes, the adults spoke the truth.

      But Congress listens with the ears of two year olds.

      Nothing will change at NASA HSF. Expect the future to look like the past when it comes to NASA.

      Elon is proving what is possible when one person with lots of money has a dream.

      NASA is proving – by virtue of its current state and predictable future – what is possible when a government agency that isn’t funded even at the rate of inflation tries to dream.

    • Hiram

      “Sitting around and wishing and arguing about it will not get us there.”

      But that’s exactly what the committee was doing as well. In fact, pronouncing “Do you want to go to Mars or not?” is equally unlikely to get us there.

    • Dark Blue Nine

      “The adults just told us that if we want space exploration we need to pay for it.”

      Mitch Daniels didn’t pay for — or even request — sizable increases for the civil human space program when he was Director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Bush II White House. If he didn’t do it, what makes him (or you) think that any other policymaker will?

      Daniels is not an adult. He’s a two-faced politician masquerading as a policy advisor.

      It’s way past time for the civil human space program to grow up and live within its means. The program is not going to find a savior among lying politicos.

    • Robert G. Oler

      Nor Mark will fantasies about redoing Apollo RGO

    • Michael Kent

      “Do we want to go to Mars or not?”

      Some of us want NASA to go to Mars. Others want NASA to build a giant monster rocket. Those goals are mutually exclusive.

  • E.P. Grondine

    Hi Hiram –

    “asteroid redirect mission (which is identically what ARM is) it’s great. It’s about diverting dangerous objects”

    Thanks for your support.

    Not only does ARM fill a vital national need (planetary protection, which includes protection of the US from the impact hazard) its about the only thing the US taxpayers are really willing to pay for right now, aside from good international relations through ISS, which also appeal to majority of them.

    • Hiram

      “Not only does ARM fill a vital national need (planetary protection, which includes protection of the US from the impact hazard) its about the only thing the US taxpayers are really willing to pay for right now, aside from good international relations through ISS, which also appeal to majority of them.”

      Get this real straight. ARM is NOT NOT NOT human spaceflight. It’s the ASTEROID REDIRECT MISSION. It’s about redirecting asteroids. Not directing astronauts to them. I am happy with learning how to divert threatening asteroids. Sending astronauts to caress them doesn’t accomplish that, though. I am not happy with sending humans up to caress them. I am in no way shape or form supporting sending humans to a captured asteroid. It serves ZERO purpose, except as a stunt. NASA does not consider ACRM to be a tool for planetary protection. They used to, but they lost that battle.

      It is freaky how “ARM” has turned into a humans-to-asteroids mission. It’s not. ACRM is the astronaut part. Wipe your glasses, would ya?

      I have to assume that HEOMD has foisted these confusing acronyms just to keep human spaceflight in the mix. Attaching human spaceflight to an otherwise important mission makes the human spaceflight important, right? Only to the dimwitted.

      • E.P. Grondine

        Hi Hiram –

        You seem a bit confused as to what constitutes a stunt, and what constitutes a skill.

        In brief:
        1) You have to find them before you can do anything with them.
        2) You have to know their composition before you can do anything with them.

        Start with the old Decadal Planning Team (DPT) studies done under Goldin and O’Keefe, and then move forward to CAPS and Mars.

        Politically, it appears to me that right now the public would appreciate it if their representatives focused NASA’s efforts on keeping them alive.

        You have to remember that the people who post to space bbs’s usually have a reason for doing so, often times having goals not shared by many others.

        • Hiram

          “You seem a bit confused as to what constitutes a stunt, and what constitutes a skill.”

          You seem a bit confused about what we’re talking about here.

          (1) ARM will help find them.
          (2) We have a number of robotic missions that are trying to understand their composition. (But lets face it, we have LOADS of asteroidal material laying on the ground.)

          My point is that neither of these goals benefits from human space flight. But you don’t seem to want to talk about that.

          ACRM is handwavingly considered to be exercise of skills and capabilities needed for sending humans to Mars. But lots of mission concepts do that. DPT is a nice example of what would do that without fondling a rock. Attaching a rock to exercising such skills adds cost and complexity.

          Oh, a stunt is something humans do with no real purpose. Just for fun/entertainment/showing off and maybe making use of obscenely expensive hardware that otherwise can’t find a use. Hello ACRM!

          It is patently obvious from your posts here that people who post to space bbs’s usually have a reason for doing so, often times having goals not shared by many others. Got any other points to make?

  • Hiram: I mean, riding a bike can be spun as giving skills to help learn how to drive a car (the world goes by fast, in both cases), but it’s a pretty crappy way to learn how to drive a car.

    Er, riding a bike is a good way to learn to ride a bike, and given our budget, bike riding is what we get. Going to an asteroid (or PhD) makes a lot more financial and practical sense at our stage of technical development than going to Mars. It’s also a lot more useful, if we want to talk about living off the land to get around the inner Solar System. So, if asteroid mining for, say, water, is your goal, practicing human operations in relative safety around a small asteroid orbiting close to Earth makes sense. It also has the almost unique charactoristic of being something we can finance without great changes in funding or strategy for HSF. It enables us to do _something_ financially achievable with a near-term end point, and, while SLS is hardly necessary, it can be made to give the otherwise useless SLS something nominally useful to do.

    I like a lunar base a lot better, but that it not in the financial cards right now.

    — Donald

    • Hiram

      “So, if asteroid mining for, say, water, is your goal, practicing human operations in relative safety around a small asteroid orbiting close to Earth makes sense.”

      The asteroid that is selected for capture and caressing in ARM/ACRM is not going to be selected for possible water composition. So practicing humans operations around a small and very dry asteroid orbiting close to Earth doesn’t make any sense, if that’s what you’re really trying to do.

      “It also has the almost unique charactoristic of being something we can finance without great changes in funding or strategy for HSF.”

      Good grief. Riding a bicycle has the almost unique characteristic of being something we can finance if we can’t afford a car. (So does jumping rope or playing darts.) Of course, as I said, it doesn’t teach you how to drive a car. There are much better low-cost strategies for learning how to drive a car. As to going to Mars, setting up a habitat in cis-lunar space is vastly more relevant for exercising strategies you’d need to command if you wanted to go to Mars. Even a trip to a distant location outside of cis-lunar space would be valuable. Like a wet asteroid.

      Visiting an asteroid is NOT uniquely something we can finance without great changes in funding or strategy for human spaceflight. It may be unique to someone with blinders on.

      • E.P. Grondine

        Hiram –

        On a historical note, bicycles were in widespread use before cars.

        The manufacturing capabilities for bicycles were later used to develop both cars and airplanes.

        • Hiram

          “The manufacturing capabilities for bicycles were later used to develop both cars and airplanes.”

          So were jumpropes and dartboards.

          • The point was, and is, that if what you can afford is a bicycle, you’d better plan your trip using a bicycle. Spending all your time dreaming about automobiles you can’t afford even with borrowing will get you nowhere — which is exactly where we’re going.

            — Donald

            • Hiram

              The point was, we’re being told we’re going to Mars. If we want to do that, and we can’t afford to do it, then we should try to afford something that at least helps us do that. My point was that just pulling something affordable out of a hat, that we can afford, but that doesn’t help you in your future efforts, isn’t justificable. If you want to learn how to drive a car, but you can’t afford a car, then take a class in driving a car. Jumping rope or riding a bicycle won’t help you learn how to drive a car.

              Just about the only thing that ACRM has in common with sending humans to Mars is human spaceflight beyond LEO. It also has a load of crap that has nothing to do with sending humans to Mars, like caressing rocks.

              OK, if we can’t afford to go to Mars, then instead of exercising our human space flight beyond LEO by caressing a rock, let’s set up a hab in cis lunar space and really exercise long duration spaceflight and Earth-independent logistics. That hab could eventually be used as a depot site and way station for possible eventual lunar trips. I’m guessing that if we can afford to caress a rock, we can afford do that too.

              But if you’ve got your blinders on, and all you can see that’s affordable is caressing a rock, then I guess you’re stuck, no?

              • Hiram: let’s set up a hab in cis lunar space and really exercise long duration spaceflight and Earth-independent logistics. That hab could eventually be used as a depot site and way station for possible eventual lunar trips.

                As often happens in this day and age, we are arguing past each other. I fully agree that this would be a great way forward. (In fact, I argued elsewhere in this set of threads for at least the depot part of that as a follow-on to COTS / CCtCAP.) However, you don’t need SLS / Orion for this — in fact, they are almost certain counterproductive, 1). because of cost, and, 2). because the SLS encourages you to think big instead of small. Again, a lunar base would be better, but if you can’t afford that, this is an excellent way forward.

                I still disagree with you that having humans take a look at an asteroid is useless, for all the reasons listed in my article. But I think we’ve argued that one dry. I would agree that if that’s the only thing you’re developing SLS / Orion for, it’s not worth the money. (But, then, just about nothing is worth that much money when we’re rapidly proving we can meet many of our goals for much less.)

                One other thought. The SLS crowd in the Senate has jumped on the Mars flyby, presumably, because it requires SLS. But, if you’re going to help private individuals do an insanely dangerous, hang-by-a-thread low cost mission, wouldn’t Golden Spike be a better option? There, at least, you get an astronaut on the lunar surface. If some equipment were sent ahead, you could do experiments in resource extraction, as well as the geological field work that humans are so good at. It plays to human mission strengths far better than any other proposal on the table.

                Neither of our ideas have a chance because neither of them require SLS.

                — Donald

              • Andrew Swallow

                The SLS can send a Bigelow BA-330 to a Lagrange Point. NASA may end up having a space station with a rock garden.

              • Hiram

                “However, you don’t need SLS / Orion for this [cis-lunar hab] — in fact, they are almost certain counterproductive”

                Ah, so let’s admit it. The reason sending humans to a captured asteroid is useful is that it gives SLS something to do. Pffflt.

                “I still disagree with you that having humans take a look at an asteroid is useless, for all the reasons listed in my article.”

                With all due respect to your article, which I have not seen, there are loads of reasons why sending humans to a captured rock IS useless, and which I’ve been explaining in this forum for a long time. So I don’t think we’re much talking past each other. You think it’s a good idea and I don’t. It is useless for planetary protection. It is virtually useless for science (according to the SBAG, no less). Large pieces of it (like anything having to do with the rock) are useless for trips to Mars. The only vaguely justifiable part of it is that it is something for humans to do outside of LEO. Unfortunately for this strategy, there are lots of other better things to do outside of LEO.

                Oh yeah, we all know that real he-man exploration requires a rock. So sending a human to an asteroid gets to leave a footprint (though with some difficulty) and plant a flag on a rock. The other rocks (Moon, Mars) are too hard.

                Let’s not worry too much about SLS, shall we? It’s destined for cancellation.

  • Bad theater.

    The NRC recommendations go nowhere without funding and that funding is not going to happen. Mars will happen on a SpaceX budget or it probably won’t happen in my lifetime.

  • The video of today’s hearing is now on my YouTube channel at:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DW6bjmHURUQ

    Trying to work up the stomach to watch it …

  • MattW

    “What if someone said in 1937, ‘We really want to develop this rocket to go to the Moon and this guy over there in Germany really has got a good rocket program. Maybe we should cooperate with him.’”

    Uh, isn’t that pretty much exactly what we did?

    • Hiram

      “Uh, isn’t that pretty much exactly what we did?”

      No, we just stole his rocket program.

        • Andrew Swallow

          Different him. ;)

          Hitler and von Braun are different people, although they did share a rocket program.

          • Egad

            Sorry, I took the “him” in the original post to be von Braun, not Hitler. Which raises a question: When did Herr Hitler first get behind the Big Rockets idea?

            • pathfinder_01

              The V2 was supported because it did not violate treaty rules regarding artillery(during it’s early development) and because the war was turning bad for Germany(during late development). In fact Germany would probably have done better not to develop it. It did very little damage but cost quite an bit. It was hoped that the weapon would terrorize the Allies to surrender. The treaty that ended WWI did not ban rockets but did limit artillery.

  • Fred Willett

    It’s easy to see how the writers of the NRC report and other reports of that ilk arrive at the sorts of architectures they promote.
    The logic goes something like this:
    ISS costs $2B a year (roughly)
    A base at L1 would cost another $2B a year (aprox)
    A lunar base another $2B
    And so on.
    You can see where this leads you. The costs quickly spiral out of control.
    You can control costs by:
    Closing ISS before you move on to a L1 base.
    Closing L1 base before you move on to a Lunar base and so on.
    This logic gives you the Apollo paradygm.
    Everything launches on one big rocket and is essentially just a flags and footprints mission.
    It sucks.
    What you need to do is what Jeff Greason said in a space policy talk a few years ago.
    At every step you need to reduce your costs. And continually reduce your costs again and again and again.
    For example. ISS costs c.$2B
    so you reduce launch costs.
    If SpaceX gets their costs of a F9 down to $5-7M a flights (their aim) then flights to ISS (or a dragon)come down to $10M a flight and the operating cost of ISS can be reduced from $2B to $200M a year.
    Now you can do step 2. A base at L1.
    To go to Mars you need to be reducing costs constantly.
    Reduce costs by LV reusability.
    reduce costs by reusable in space transport.
    reduce costs by ISRU.
    reduce costs by volume transport of goods and people.
    And so on.
    Yes, some hardware development is important, but the real issue is economics.
    Economics will drive up to Mars.

    • Andrew Swallow

      NASA needs a development budget and an operations budget. When development of a spacecraft/station/rover/habitat is complete the budget is transferred to the next item.

      • Hiram

        “When development of a spacecraft/station/rover/habitat is complete the budget is transferred to the next item.”

        That simplistic picture doesn’t work for what is wholly a developmental effort. ISS wasn’t “complete” for a long time. Still isn’t, if you consider the evolution of the equipment on board. ISS has been a laboratory for space systems, and those space systems are upgraded and installed routinely. Robotic science spacecraft work the way you say, because once you launch them, no one is going to touch them (well, except for HST). Most SMD programs are thus identically development efforts that evolve into operations efforts, and they’re budgeted that way. But HSF enterprises probably won’t work that way.

        I guess with a hab on the Moon, you can try to call it “complete” when it has a roof, a few beds, a frypan, and an ECLSS system. Few people will think about it that way, though.

        A system that is technologically cutting edge descends into obsolescence once you declare it “complete”.

  • Given the LCROSS results, the Moon is an under-appreciated yet legitimate destination for development and settlement. Because it is nearby and has relevance to markets in orbital, cis-lunar, and lunar space, we should no longer neglect its development.

    None-the-less, I think it premature to write off Mars. There are two steps towards Mars which we could probably accomplish within reasonable budgets which would be a flyby mission and a Phobos-Deimos crewed mission leaving the return vehicle in a highly elliptical Mars orbit. If ion propulsion were to be used to push cargo and space storable propellant from LEO to EML2 then the number and size of the launchers for these missions might be within budget.

    Doing these two missions and holding off on developing a Martian lander could give enough time to develop lunar polar resources (using a Lunar COTS approach) which would make Mars surface missions much less expensive and hence sustainable.

  • Egad

    There are two steps towards Mars which we could probably accomplish within reasonable budgets which would be a flyby mission and a Phobos-Deimos crewed mission leaving the return vehicle in a highly elliptical Mars orbit.

    But to do either of those we’d need a long-duration habitat that we don’t have and can’t afford to develop. Remember, the reason NASA picked up on the somewhat bizarre ARM was that it avoids the need to come up with such a habitat:

    http://www.yourhoustonnews.com/bay_area/news/nasa-fy-budget-proposal-aims-to-fund-asteroid-research/article_b182735f-e01b-5257-a1ce-1fb2baf0dbdc.html

    The roots of the asteroid-capture initiative were planted in 2010 when the president challenged NASA scientists to visit an asteroid by 2025.

    For Dr. Ellen Ochoa, Director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC), the initiative is a creative strategy to further JSC’s mission given the current funding situation.

    “We have proposed a new strategy in which to explore asteroids,” she said during a presentation before the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership Wednesday (April 17 [2013]). “The main progress we have made is the development of Orion (NASA’s Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle) and the International Space Station. Those are two critical capabilities to get to an asteroid.”

    Going forward, scientists would also need to develop a habitation module that would allow humans to live in deep space for months at a time, Ochoa said.

    “This is an ambitious challenge; but we like it because it doesn’t require development of another new human spacecraft which would mean a lot of new money. In the current fiscal environment that’s probably not going to happen,” she said.

    • Hiram

      “But to do either of those we’d need a long-duration habitat that we don’t have and can’t afford to develop.”

      We don’t have such a habitat, but we have vastly more experience with space habitat engineering than with surface habitat engineering. For the latter, in addition to contaminants, power and comm are serious issues.

      As to a flyby mission, pffft. Just a stunt. Nothing more. Dennis Tito can try to do stunts, but the taxpayer can’t be asked to.

      Pretty funny, isn’t it, that the NRC committee never even considered flybys or orbital stations.

      Yes, lunar development might eventually make Mars trips more affordable, if you’re sending shiploads of people to Mars. If you aren’t sending shiploads of people to Mars, the dependence on pricey lunar infrastructure isn’t that smart. So the bottom line question becomes … is this about sending shiploads of people to Mars? I don’t think Congress has signed on to that. Congress, in fact, has NEVER signed on to “colonization” of the Moon or Mars, and I don’t think they ever will. Colonization of the Moon or Mars is a sci fi delusion that has never been established in real space policy.

  • Very disappointing that there is no discussion of reform of the agency or its distended program portfolio.

    • Jim Nobles

      Even though you and I would probably disagree with what reforms may be needed (some of them anyway) and what parts of NASA’s portfolio should be dropped. Neither one of us are likely to have joy as long as the politicians consider NASA’s primary purpose to be a money channel to their districts.

    • Dark Blue Nine

      Yes, why is the agency blowing billions of taxpayer dollars developing an HLV when at least two firms have offered to develop the equivalent capability for a fraction of the price? Or when one firm is developing two HLVs with no taxpayer dollars? This is the “distended” part of the program portfolio that is in desperate need of “reform”.

      • Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and ATK are all developing the SLS. They are commercial firms last time I checked. I’ll admit they are not led by a trendy transnational Silicon Valley dandy who wears black tee-shirts, but they are formidable technology companies nonetheless.

        • Hiram

          “They are commercial firms last time I checked.”

          Cost-plus in achieving detailed government specs is fiscally commercial, but not really competitively commercial. That’s how they make most of their money. They don’t say “Please buy what I want to sell!”, but rather “Please tell me what to make that you would buy!” Though Boeing is dipping it’s corporate toe in the water, and ATK, with it’s new deal with Orbital, may do so as well.

          Marillyn Hewson probably wouldn’t look that good in a black tee-shirt, and the technological formidableness of her company doesn’t really bear on that.

        • The space divisions of those firms are not at all commercial in any useful sense of that word. They are more akin to Soviet design bureaus. Which is why state socialists like abreakingwind like them.

        • Dark Blue Nine

          “Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and ATK are all developing the SLS.

          Your point? One of the firms I was referring to is ULA, which is owned by Boeing and LockMart.

          “They are commercial firms last time I checked.”

          I never wrote whether they were or weren’t commercial.

          Do you have a reading handicap?

  • It took a few days to find the words, along with watching that wretched hearing, but finally penned a lengthy screed:

    “The Emperor’s New Clothes”

    I think the fundamental problem is that the Academies was directed from the beginning to assume that human spaceflight is NASA’s primary purpose.

    The problem is, if you read the 1958 National Aeronautics and Space Act, it says nothing about requiring NASA to fly people. NASA was intended to be an aerospace research and development agency.

    The “Starfleet” redirection from JFK’s moon mission proposal, and for the last half-century we’ve been trying to figure out what to do with all that 1960s infrastructure.

    The Academies wasn’t allowed to say, “Maybe NASA should go back to what it was intended to be.”

    So the Academies report says, If human spaceflight is your raison d’etre, then fixate on Mars.

    The report questions ARM only in that context.

    But if NASA was allowed to go back to the capabilities approach — its original purpose — then ARM makes perfect sense.

    As do all the other NewSpace initiatives during the Obama administration.

    • Hiram

      Good essay. The fundamental problem you identify is exactly right. As you say, the charter for the NRC study wasn’t to figure out what NASA should be, but rather to figure out what human space flight was for. They shrugged their shoulders and seemed to say, “Duh, Mars, we guess” and, by default, NASA was responsible for doing it.

      I would say, however, that interest by industry in mining asteroids is not a particularly good reason for the human space flight mission linked to ARM (actually called ARCM), though it is a fine reason for understanding how to redirect asteroids, which is largely what ARM is about. As I’ve been saying here for a while, let’s not confuse human space flight with ARM, although NASA desperately wants us to do that, and even Congress has largely fallen for the bait. To the extent that ARCM is largely bereft of rationale, duct taping it onto ARM is viewed as being constructive.

      ARM is about science, planetary protection, and perhaps resource development. It is about those things without being about human spaceflight.

    • It’s a good history, but I’d put it slightly differently. It’s not that the purpose of NASA is human exploration of space, but that the purpose of human spaceflight is exploration and science. Until we dissuade people of that falsehood, we’ll be stuck in Apollo mode.

      • Rand, I would say this …

        In the early 19th Century, when the U.S. government explored the Louisiana Purchase, Thomas Jefferson dispatched Lewis and Clark because human explorers were the only technological option available.

        Today, more than 200 years later, we have a robotic vehicle cruising Mars sending back high-resolution images from the surface.

        If that technology had existed 200 years ago, would Jefferson had risked their lives? Probably not.

        My personal opinion is that human expansion into space is inevitable. But it should come naturally, not forced as a stunt. Apollo was a stunt, and a Mars human spaceflight now would also be a stunt.

        Our era needs to establish a permanent human foothold in low Earth orbit. The ISS is the beginning. The Bigelow habitats are the next. We go from there.

        • Robert G. Oler

          Stephen I think both you and Simberg are correct…

          Jefferson did not even use the NASA model to do L and C. He used private corporations whereever possible to provide things, the trip was a single source episode and it only occurred as it did because the technology was “right there” for ordinary people to more or less follow.

          What we have now at NASA is not even science…its just stuntery…its an entire industrial complex built up to simply sustain itself with various gimicks.

          Robert

          • I just wonder how many more years can politicians tell people we’re going to Mars before the nation’s B.S. detector calls them on it.

            • Robert G. Oler

              Stephen…I think for as long as the people will put up with the general shit in Washington.

              NO ONE I mean no one outside the space “community” and groupies are listening or care about anything NASA is doing. The “Policy” debate is no where on the national radar.

              What NASA risk at somepoint, and this might be coming is becoming a national poster child for how the government operates…

              There are political currents flowing in both parties that have a populist “Hang them all” or “damn it why dont they listen to us” ring…these voices have always been there but more and more people are joining the choir.

              NASA and SLS/Orion, the military and F-35 and now Obama and his “its only 500 million to arm the Syrian (whatever you think that they are) fighters” is illustrative of small things which are coming to be poster children for a government run amock.

              there is coming (in my view) a 1932 style election snap. Right now I just dont know which way it breaks. (I Hope it breaks Democratic ie very liberal but its hard to know now) RGO

              • Andrew Swallow

                RGO wrote

                there is coming (in my view) a 1932 style election snap. Right now I just dont know which way it breaks. (I Hope it breaks Democratic ie very liberal but its hard to know now)

                Then prepare a low cost plan for creating a Moon Base – half NASA’s current budget.

                Left wing – make those capitalist companies obey the government’s plan.

                Right wing – harness the wild spirits of the private sector to fly us to the moon.

              • Hiram

                “Left wing – make those capitalist companies obey the government’s plan.

                Right wing – harness the wild spirits of the private sector to fly us to the moon.”

                Sure isn’t what we’re seeing in the left and right wing these days!
                The wild spirits of the private sector are getting trampled by the GOP, with dramatic budget cuts aimed squarely at commercial space, which is surely where the wildest spirits reside. At least Mr. Shelby, Mr. Wolf, and Mr. Smith are cracking the whip on capitalist companies to obey the government’s plan. They’re leaning hard left, I guess.

              • What NASA risk at somepoint, and this might be coming is becoming a national poster child for how the government operates…

                With the VA, IRS, NSA, HHS, DHS… I don’t think they have to worry about that any time soon.

    • Jim Nobles

      It was very good, Stephen. Thanks for writing it.

    • I can’t open your link at work. However, since people seem to like it, I happen to know that the OpEd editor at Space News is short on opinion pieces right now and looking for more. You’d need to re-write it (they won’t take something that’s already been published, even in a personal blog online), and keep it under 1,000 words, but you might want to send a version to him.

      — Donald

  • Aberwys

    Has anyone looked at Dave Eggers’ new book?

    It pokes at the current state of NASA and life post-shuttle retirement. Fiction, of course, as that is Eggers’ area.

    Here’s a review:
    http://www.sfgate.com/books/article/Your-Fathers-Where-Are-They-by-Dave-Eggers-5568191.php

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