Exploration: January 2010 Archives

Hopes for NASA's moon mission fade, Washington Post

"White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said Sunday, "The President is committed to a robust 21st century space program, and his budget will reflect that dedication to NASA. NASA is vital not only to spaceflight, but also for critical scientific and technological advancements. The expertise at NASA is essential to developing innovative new opportunities, industries, and jobs. The President's budget will take steps in that direction."

Change in Space for NASA: Renting the Right Stuff, AP

"Getting to space is about to be outsourced. The Obama administration on Monday will propose in its new budget spending billions of dollars to encourage private companies to build, launch and operate spacecraft for NASA and others. Uncle Sam would buy its astronauts a ride into space just like hopping in a taxi."

The End of an Era? Brian Williams, MSNBC

"During the State of the Union, I turned to David Gregory and Andrea Mitchell and blurted out the obvious: I could never be president. The specific reason I gave was that I'd bankrupt the nation by re-starting an all-out push into space - back to the moon, to Mars and beyond."

Texas lawmakers balk at cutting manned spaceflight, Dallas Morning News

"Everyone in Washington wants fiscal restraint these days - except when it comes to their priorities. Case in point: NASA. Texas lawmakers in both parties are girding for battle with the Obama administration over the future of human spaceflight. Many of the same lawmakers routinely accuse the president of sending deficits into the stratosphere."

DIRECT Delusions

Rebel Engineers Sit With NASA to Chart Future of Manned Space, Popular Mechanics

"[Ross] Tierney, an amateur space buff, is an outspoken advocate for Jupiter Direct, a rocket designed to replace NASA's Ares 1 and Ares V, the two launch vehicles at the heart of NASA's Constellation program. "

NASA Renegades Pitch Obama Team New Post-Shuttle Plan, Popular Mechanics

"We were received well, but they were very clear they are offering no opinions at this point," says Ross Tierney, a collectible space model kit designer from Florida who presented the alternative plan.

Keith's note: Dear DIRECT Fanboys: NASA has not selected a specific design to replace Ares V. It most certainly has not decided to build DIRECT or any variant thereof. According to how NASA sources tell me the process will unfold, if/when NASA decides to go ahead and procure a replacement for Ares V or any other heavy lift launch system, it will do so via standard commercial procurement process - just like it is going to be doing for LEO access. Newsflash: the shift is going to be away from government-mandated designs (i.e. DIRECT) toward launch solutions to be provided by the private sector. The fact that a toy rocket model company owner was asked to come to NASA HQ and talk about a rocket design - one whose actual "designers" can never be named - was simply a courtesy - a curious one at that - not a statement of support.

After all this time, I have to wonder why no one except these people are ever associated - by name - with this concept. I cannot fathom that NASA would make any rational decision about launch vehicles based on anonymous designers - especially when the "team" is led by a foreign national who runs a toy rocket model company and uses a blurry image of Werner von Braun on a website instead of showing his face.

Imagine the inevitable congressional hearing: Charlie Bolden tells Congress that NASA is going to throw away $8 billion worth of rocket design done by professional rocket designers and adopt a design whose team is mostly anonymous and is lead publicly by foreign national model rocket designer?

As Augustine Commission member Leroy Chiao once asked "Who are you guys?"

NASA JSC Solicitation: Variable Specific Impulse Magento-Plasma Rocket - VASIMR

"NASA/JSC has a requirement for the acquisition of services to update a magnet fixture with an additional cryocooler for conduction cooling and to eliminate the liquid cyrogen cooling system in preparation for crycooler testing in vacuum and magnetic field combined environments. In addition, Studies will be conducted to evaluate a Lunar Tug concept utilizing Variable Specific Impulse Magneto-plasma Rocket (VASIMR) engine capabilities from Low Earth Orbit to Lunar Orbit and libration points. NASA/JSC intends to purchase these services from Ad Astra Rocket Company."

Previous VASIMR stories

Video below

Keith's note: Reliable sources tell me that all of the arm waving and negative stories (many sourced directly from within NASA BTW) that have been flying around do not constitute the entire picture of what NASA is going to get and what it is going to be asked to do. Indeed this is only part of the story. This back and forth is going to continue - all from folks inside NASA - until the actual budget with the full picture is released.

As the picture continues to emerge, not only is the push for commercial crew and cargo to the ISS going to expand in the new budget, but that push for commercialization will cover all aspects of American human spaceflight - LEO and beyond, cargo and capsules, and even the development of HLVs. This will all be done as part of an overall agency budget increase of $5.9 Billion over the next 5 fiscal years.

Notice below that NASA only saw fit to talk with some - but not all - of the media before the budget release while details of the budget are still under Administration embargo. Yet another example of how Morrie Goodman seems to be trying to parse access to the agency by the media. Update: I have now learned that these media briefings were set up directly by the White House - not NASA PAO. Looks like the White House decided to take NASA PAO out of the loop. Not a good sign. Sorry Morrie.

Obama To Abandon Return To Moon, Extend Iss, Florida Today

"President Barack Obama will propose $6 billion in new funding for NASA over the next five years, administration officials said Wednesday. The proposed increase, which will be part of the president's fiscal 2011 budget request on Monday, aims to encourage the use of commercial rockets and extend use of the International Space Station until at least 2020 as the agency switches priorities away from sending astronauts back to the moon."

Obama officials: NASA to get $6 billion for commercial rockets, Orlando Sentinel

"The news teleconference at which the officials and astronaut spoke was organized for reporters at two Florida newspapers in response to the Orlando Sentinel's report on Tuesday, which said the White House budget next week would kill NASA's plans to return astronauts to the moon and scrap the rockets being developed to take them there. On the teleconference was an administration official, a NASA official and Sally Ride, the first American woman in space. ... But the NASA official stressed that just because the Constellation program to return humans to the moon and its Ares I and Ares V rockets were going to be canceled did not mean that the Obama administration was abandoning exploration and human spaceflight."

Report: Obama Budget to Scrub Moon Mission, CBS News

"Instead of blasting off to the moon, NASA's hopes for a manned mission there have been blasted to pieces, sources in the White House, Congress and NASA tell the Orlando Sentinel."

White House won't fund NASA moon program, Orlando Sentinel via LA Times

"When the White House releases its budget proposal Monday, there will be no money for the Constellation program that was to return humans to the moon by 2020. The Ares I rocket that was to replace the space shuttle to ferry humans to space will be gone, along with money for the Ares V cargo rocket that was to launch the fuel and supplies needed to return to the moon. There will be no lunar landers, no moon bases. "We certainly don't need to go back to the moon," one administration official said."

NASA to Review Human Spaceflight, NY Times

"Michael D. Griffin, the former NASA administrator who oversaw the creation of Constellation and remains a staunch defender, said that would be a mistake. "I can't imagine the situation where the United States doesn't want to have end-to-end capability to reach the lunar surface," Dr. Griffin said."

Flat budget, limited goals may be in NASA's future, Houston Chronicle

"Far from getting the $3 billion more each year that experts suggest NASA needs for meaningful human spaceflight, President Barack Obama is expected to offer little new money to the space agency when his budget is released Monday. Although there's no official word from the White House or NASA, space policy analysts and legislators say it's likely the space agency's budget will remain "flat" for the coming year, potentially leaving humans stuck in near-Earth orbit for the foreseeable future."

Keith's note: NASA has just spent more than half a decade telling Americans that we are all going back to the Moon - and why. In the process, billions of dollars have been spent. Children have grown up being told this again and again - just like my generation heard in the 1960s. Now this is being taken away from them. I can only imagine how my generation would have reacted. It is one thing to alter a plan, change rockets, etc. But it is quite another to abandon the plan altogether.

The ISS has great potential - much of it yet to be realized. But much of that untapped potential was preparing humans to go out into the solar system. Now those destinations have evaporated and have been replaced with the elusive and ill-defined "Flexible Path".

How is NASA going to explain this about face? Answer - they won't - because they can't. They are incapable of admitting mistakes or even stating the obvious. What I really want to see is how NASA attempts to explain this bait and switch to all of the students it has sought to inspire since the VSE was announced. A "Summer of Innovation" centered around a stale and contracting space program seems somewhat contradictory to me.

How will NASA - and the White House - explain the use of vast sums of taxpayer money to bail out the decisions of incompetent financial institutions on Wall Street and yet not be able to find a paltry fraction of that amount to bail out the future of space exploration that future Americans will benefit from - and participate in.

I just spent a few days wandering around Yosemite looking up at vast expanses of rock such as El Capitan - things that humans have surmounted - and yet still inspire later generations to attempt. Now I have to fly home and witness the slow motion dismemberment of NASA's human exploration program. You will pardon me if I fell like I have been whip lashed.

There are two options open to those who wish to explore the solar system - personally. One is to ignore NASA altogether and promote commercial space. The other is to totally overhaul NASA once and for all. Despite its collection of incredibly skilled and motivated people, NASA is also a bumbling behemoth that cannot get out of its own way. Personally, I think the best approach is to pursue both.

But something needs to change. Clearly the status quo has utterly failed and yet another generation is at risk of missing out on the chance to personally explore space.

It is my understanding that Charlie Bolden worked very, very hard on getting more for NASA. So the blame for these cutbacks should not be laid on his shoulders. He does have a chance, however, to use this opportunity to truly reconfigure the agency in response to this slap from the White House. The last time NASA was in this situation in the mid-1990s, its Administrator simply did not understand that his people were his greatest asset. Charlie Bolden does not have that character flaw.

NASA is simply going to have to do more with less. NASA has little choice at this point than to look for the silver lining in all of this. In so doing, Bolden's people - all of them - contractor, civil servants, and others - need to step up to the task of finding this silver lining - or get out of the way and find something else to do so that others can fix things.

Keith's update: This reader note says it all: "Tomorrow the President and Vice President will be together in Florida to announce they are awarding $2.5 billion (of the $8 billion federal dollars slated for similar projects) to build a high-speed rail system from the Tampa airport to Disney World. It will help people visit entertainment venues at Disney World (Space Mountain), Epcot (Spaceship Earth), Universal Studios (A Day at The Park with Barney)."

To be certain a job is a job - but I wonder how well these new jobs will offset the old jobs being lost in the KSC area. Will workers be able to move from one to another? I doubt it. Also, the fact that the Obama Administration seems to be more interested in moving tourists to see fantasy depictions of space exploration as opposed to doing the real thing speaks volumes. What sort of message is this sending?

Has the USA hit its final frontier in human space exploration?, USA Today

"When experts try to read the tea leaves, they're not hopeful about human space exploration in the next decade. "There won't be any," says space policy expert John Logsdon of George Washington University. Instead, he and others suggest, the administration probably will continue support of the International Space Station, which hangs in low-Earth orbit and eats up money that otherwise could send astronauts to the moon, Mars or asteroids. "Clearly, NASA is at a crossroads," says science historian Michael Robinson of the University of Hartford (Conn.). "We are revisiting some questions of a century ago about what we want out of exploration as a nation as we look to space."


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