Hooray Yet Another Space Plan

Newt Gingrich: We're in a space race with China - We must win to protect our economic and national security, Fox

"As our legacy space companies and NASA continue to fumble around and protect their prized projects, China is aggressively seeking to overcome the United States as the dominant space- faring nation."

Newt Gingrich trying to sell Trump on a cheap moon plan, politico

"Newt Gingrich and an eclectic band of NASA skeptics are trying sell President Donald Trump on a reality show-style plan to jump-start the return of humans to the moon -- at a fraction of the space agency's estimated price tag. The proposal, whose other proponents range from a three-star Air Force general to the former publicist for pop stars Michael Jackson and Prince, envisions creating a $2 billion sweepstakes pitting billionaires Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and other space pioneers to see who can establish and run the first lunar base, according to a summary of the plan shared with POLITICO."

Keith's note: I have not seen the plan (neither has NASA apparently) - and I am not aware that it has been published online (link please) so I can't comment on it other than what other people write about it. If this is such a great plan then where is it? As best I can tell it was concocted - ad hoc - by a group of people (Space Development Steering Committee) who like to argue with each other - endlessly - on an email list. They can't even tell us who their current members are. I have stayed away from this list since I got tired of some of its members sending me countless emails demanding that I publish whatever it is that their latest collective rant was about.

Oh yes, depending on who you talk to about this plan it is/is not about China and there is/is not a new space race. You'd think that this sort of basic notion would be necessary in order to build a new space plan for America - right?

Let's be blunt about this. The current Administration has thrown in their total support plus some additional fire power to make the so-called "program of record" (SLS/Orion) work. They have accelerated the 2028 date for putting humans on the Moon by 4 years. And they have added a lot of new commercial aspects so as to engage the flexibility and ingenuity of the private sector. Alas, the budget to support this - or the previous - program of record is yet to be found. That said Jim Bridenstine has done his best to meld old and new, slow and fast, dull and inspirational together and make a big push to try and pull it off. Maybe we should at least try and make this one work?

Its not easy to pivot NASA and billions of dollars in space when the goals and goal posts are constantly changing. We have had many presidential marching orders in space. Since 2004 gone from Finish Shuttle and ISS, then Moon, then Mars; to Asteroid then Mars (skip the Moon); to Moon without ISS; to ISS then Moon; to ISS, then Moon, then Mars; to why the Moon - lets go to Mars before the end of my second term; then back to Moon (but quickly) to Mars." We are in the whiplash era of space policy formulation.

If the 2020 election gives this Administration another 4 years then perhaps there is a chance to accomplish the singular goal of putting Americans back on the lunar surface - once - using a mixture of SLS/Orion and private sector assets as is currently envisioned. However the whole "sustainable" aspect of this program lies beyond any notional second term for this Administration.

For the current administration to simply drop their current plans and pivot to whatever it is this new space policy cabal wants to do would give them at a minimum 1.5 years and a maximum of 5.5 years (with a second term) to pull it off. Given the current polls and mood in the country a change in Administrations is highly probable. If so then whatever is being done by NASA now under the current administration will face tumult and rearrangement - as was the case when the Obama Administration departed. While no one knows who the Democratic nominee i.e. potential 46th President will be, it is a safe bet that there will be substantial pivots, edits, deletions, and other changes in the current American space policy that would make current and proposed space policies moot - including this one that people are emailing one another about.

In other words more whiplash.

To be certain Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are going to do whatever they are going to do on their own timeline and will be more than happy to accept NASA business. But they are going to go ahead with what they are doing undeterred even if the government does not buy a ride. America needs an actual plan for its space activities - one that is actually a "plan" i.e. one built outward from simple basic precepts (or directives), utilizing a consistent but adaptable strategy, with goals and objectives that everyone understands and works toward that transcend partisan politics. Absent that plan then all we are going to get are homemade space plans that bounce around email lists and evaporate every time the body politic shifts in its collective seat.

But - if the current "plan" actually gains traction and shows evidence of being able to work albeit not in the way everyone would like - maybe its worth supporting for a while longer. Besides, what would we all rather have: a bunch of proposed space programs that never got implemented; programs that were implemented and were cut short before they could succeed or fail; or one that was given a chance to succeed and has made some progress? We won't know unless we try. Let's try.

Either way this latest space plan from the space fans too shall pass.

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on August 19, 2019 11:36 AM.

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