It Is Time To Hit The NASA Reset Button

Gerstenmaier: U.S. Leadership in Space is "Ours to Lose" If Direction Changes Too Many Times, Space Policy Online

"Bill Gerstenmaier, the head of NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, said today that the United States is the "partner of choice" for countries wanting to engage in international space cooperation, but that leadership is "ours to lose" if too many changes in direction drive partners away."

Keith's note: Sage advice. And of course Gerst is totally faultless when it comes to all of the changes in direction. right? Lets dial back a decade or so. First Gerst was behind the Ares I/V/Orion Constellation thing. Then he was behind the SLS/Orion thing when the Constellation thing was turned upside down. Then he pushed the Journey to Mars thing. Then he jumped in behind the Asteroid Retrieval thing which eventually became the grab the small boulder thing. When no one liked the asteroid thing any more, he picked up the pieces and jumped behind the Deep Space Gateway thing. Then, to pay for the Deep Space gateway thing he jumped behind the commercialize ISS thing (with no one lined up to pay the bills). Then when the Mars thing was fading he pivoted to the Back to the Moon thing but he still wants to walk away from ISS in LEO to build a mini-ISS with no as-yet determined purpose out near the Moon.

Gerst is certainly flexible and adaptable. And he has kept a lot of important things alive that others sought to kill. But consistent in his direction? No. Not surprisingly, year after year he'll tell you that the Ares V/SLS is the perfect rocket for all of these ever-changing missions and destinations - even if he can never give a consistent cost of what an SLS costs to launch as the schedules continue to slip to the right. Of course he'll tell you that all of these pivots were all due to White House and/or Congressional direction and re-direction. He's correct. But behind the scenes in all of those scenarios, Gerst and HEOMD were constantly pitching their ideas to impressionable staffers - always trying to pivot to stay in synch with the space flavor of the month and stay one step ahead of the budget axe to keep the marching army employed. And of course no one has money for any of the payloads that SLS will fly. But its all notional anyway, so why bother with the actual budget thing.

Now, NASA can buy Falcon Heavy launches at 1/5 (or cheaper) the cost of an SLS with roughly 70% of a SLS launch capability online. And more cheap heavy lift is on the way from other suppliers coupled with nimble, small launchers from another suite of suppliers. Gerst is quite correct to warn that constant changes in direction can sour current and potential partners on future projects. But he seems to not see that this very problem he cites has been happening under his watch. Possible partners are now looking to China because China offers them what they want - while NASA offers potential parters what they can have. These two things are not the same.

The old way of exploring space no longer works. If NASA doesn't everyone else will. In fact, they already are. The agency is stuck in outdated subroutines that run in circles that result in increasingly inefficient output. Its time to hit the reset button.

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on March 6, 2018 9:52 AM.

Will The U.S. Trade War Extend To The Space Sector? was the previous entry in this blog.

Shh! Bill Nelson Openly Champions Space Legislation Co-authored By Jim Bridenstine is the next entry in this blog.

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