Exploration: February 2016 Archives

Staying course on the Journey to Mars, Lou Friedman via SpaceReview

"NASA does not yet have a plan for its now generally agreed-upon space exploration goal, human missions to Mars. It would be a mistake if they did. A plan now, without a specified and approved program and with many options for mission design and technology development, would be premature and wasteful. It would force both a timetable and cost estimates that, by their very definition, would be unrealistic and unsustainable. A premature plan might foreclose some of the options cited above for reaching into the solar system, years before the requisite experience is gained to make the best choices."

Keith's note: It would be a "mistake" for NASA to have a plan for human missions to Mars? Really? How do you develop a budget unless you have a plan against which to derive costs and schedule? Indeed, how do you develop a plan if you do not have an overarching strategy with goals and objectives to guide the development of that plan? How do you know what you need to learn and develop if you have no idea where you are going? Lou Friedman is living in some alternate universe where he thinks that we should run that process in reverse.

If Friedman's cluelessness was not already established by this statement, it should be clear from his support for the Asteroid Redirect Mission, a one-off stunt promoted by the Planetary Society that has no strategic relevance to a human mission to Mars (or the Moon). Watch as it evaporates after the election - regardless of who wins. But wait, there's more. Undeterred from supporting one pointless mission, there's yet another that Friedman supports: the Humans Orbiting Mars mission. In this plan the Planetary Society expects NASA to spend billions and take longer than is currently envisioned in NASA plans to *almost* send humans to the surface of Mars.

Its these half-baked ideas that distract people from making the big decisions that need to be made with regard to America's future in space - decisions that need to be clearly stated, clearly described such that everyone understands where NASA wants to go (and why), and then clearly funded such that anyone can glance at a one page chart and see if everything is/is not going according to plan. Without clear goals, coherent strategy, and a solid plan, NASA will continue to stumble down a ever-changing and increasingly hard to support path on the #JourneyToNowhere

The Last Man on The Moon Wants You To Go Back (Review), SpaceRef

"Nearly half a century ago we sent people on improbable voyages to another world - because we could. Indeed, for a while, such voyages became routine. Then, suddenly, it was over. We stopped visiting the Moon before we had barely figured out to do so. We knew that it might be a while before we went back, but we would go back - right?"

Keith's note: Too bad NASA JSC's R5 Robot is broken - and when it does work it can only do so on tethers and hoists. This Boston Dynamics robot can follow you home through the woods and then clean up your garage. Or pick up moon rocks and put them inside the sample return vehicle.

- Is JSC's R5 Droid Worth Fixing?, earlier post
- Too bad NASA's R5 robot is broken and can't do anything unless it is on hoists and tethers., earlier post
- Never Ask NASA a Simple Question, earlier post
- NASA JSC Has Developed A Girl Robot in Secret (Revised With NASA Responses), earlier post

Record Number of Americans Apply to #BeAnAstronaut at NASA

"More than 18,300 people applied to join NASA's 2017 astronaut class, almost three times the number of applications received in 2012 for the most recent astronaut class, and far surpassing the previous record of 8,000 in 1978. "It's not at all surprising to me that so many Americans from diverse backgrounds want to personally contribute to blazing the trail on our journey to Mars," said NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, himself a former astronaut. "A few exceptionally talented men and women will become the astronauts chosen in this group who will once again launch to space from U.S. soil on American-made spacecraft."

Keith's note: Of the 18,300 applications NASA will pick - at most - a dozen candidates. And those new NASA astronauts that are selected can expect to wait nearly 20 years before they go on the #JourneyToMars or wherever. One has to assume that most of the people applying knew it was a long shot. Many probably did it so that they could get the rejection letter (larger image) to frame and show people that they tried. Many more, however, really, really, REALLY would like to fly in space.

NASA did a good job via social media in pumping people to apply. But what is NASA going to do with this interest once reality sets in and 99.9% of the applicants get the rejection letter? Think about it - a marketing plan (oh wait, NASA is not supposed to that) - an education and public outreach (EPO) effort - has just identified 18,300 people who want to fly in space. I suspect the real number out there has multiple zeros after it. That said, NASA now knows who these 18,300 people are. They applied for a job, so all manner of government privacy regulations kick in. As such, NASA probably can't do a damn thing with this priceless information. Or maybe they can.

NASA has done a lot of #NASASocial stuff. It is useful, but I think it has reached the limit of its effectiveness. NASA now needs to enlist a more robust, personal, one-on-one approach to its EPO efforts. NASA has/had a "solar system ambassadors" program as well as other EPO programs that enlisted interested educators and citizens. Guess what: 18,300 potential participants just popped up on NASA's radar screen.

Again: 18,300 citizens just said that they want to fly on a NASA rocket. What is NASA going to do with this influx of self-identified and overtly-avowed space explorers?

SLS upper stage caught in political tug-of-war, SpaceNews

"NASA is stopping work, at the request of Congress, on human-rating the initial upper stage for the Space Launch System, even as the agency argues that its funding projections require it to use that upper stage on crewed missions. At issue is the future use of the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS), an upper stage derived from the Delta 4's upper stage. The ICPS is intended for use on at least the first SLS launch, which will not carry a crew. NASA confirmed Feb. 18 that it has instructed teams to stop work on efforts to human-rate the ICPS for later, crewed SLS missions, following instructions from Congress in the report accompanying the 2016 omnibus spending bill."

NASA moves to enforce early switch to EUS for SLS, NASASpaceflight.com

"The EUS recieved a specific reference from NASA Chief Financial Officer David Radzanowski in comments made to the media after the announcement, citing that the reduced funding could impact on implementing the EUS on the second flight of SLS."

Keith's note: On one hand NASA stops work on anything that would involve use of the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) for a crewed EM-2 mission but on the other hand its FY 2017 budget request is nowhere near enough to develop the Exploration Upper Stage (EUS) such that crewed EM-2 can stay on its current schedule. In other words the White House, NASA, and Congress are all but ensuring that the first flight of SLS with humans will most certainly slip - possibly after the second term of the next person to be elected president. NASA started this big Ares-V/SLS effort back in the middle of the Bush presidency. This latest threat to SLS could mean that more than two, double-term presidencies will have passed before NASA can send its new big rocket with anyone on board.

I wonder how many Atlas, Delta, and Falcon rockets you could have bought with the money NASA has spent on Ares-V/SLS? How much sooner could we have begun to build and operate a real cis-lunar infrastructure had we gone with private sector rockets? Yes, it would take more launches, but given the chronic inability for NASA to field its new big rocket, we'd have been further along - for less money - if we'd taken the commercial approaches first envisioned when the Vision for Space Exploration was announced in January 2004. But no, NASA is on a #JourneyToNowhere instead.

- NASA Is Building A Rocket That It Can't Afford To Use, earlier post
- NASA Begins Its Journey To Nowhere, earlier post

NASA Report Details Expert Team Investigation of Asteroid Redirect Mission

"A new report chartered by NASA provides input to important areas of robotic mission requirements development and explores the science benefits and potential knowledge gain from the agency's Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM). NASA will visit an asteroid boulder during the Proving Ground phase of its journey to Mars in cislunar space the volume of space around the moon featuring multiple stable staging orbits for future deep space missions."

Report: "A precursor to the ARRM target body in order to scout for boulders and provide surface and boulder physical characteristics would effectively increase the characterization phase duration and should be investigated further. This precursor could be a dedicated mission or be co-manifested with the ARV, arriving at the target earlier. Additional benefits would be gained if the precursor had some means of interacting with the surface to provide geotechnical data."

- Asteroid Boulder Retrieval Mission Starts To Drift Away
- Earlier posts on Bolden and asteroids

NASA's New Budget Would Gut Europa But Otherwise Support Planetary Exploration, Planetary Society

"Europa isn't Mars, and studying and eventually getting humans to Mars is NASA's current overriding goal. Pure politics. Several of the Congressional leaders who are strongly backing the Europa mission and planetary exploration in general are highly conservative politically. While they favor spending more money on planetary missions, they also want to cut funding for missions for NASA to study the Earth, especially climate change. Essentially proposing to push out the launch of a Europa mission to forever may be part of a hardball negotiating tactic to trade more funding for the Europa mission for also fully funding the President's generous proposed budget for Earth science missions."

Keith's note: This is hilarious. The Planetary Society is using the "politics" dog whistle when in fact politics is all that they engage in when they lobby Congress for their referred projects - and against those they do not like. In this case, they are not getting their way, so, of course it is due to that horrible Washington scourge called "politics". What will be fun to watch is when the Planetary Society eventually realizes that the only way that they are going to get their preferred Europa mission ala Rep. Culberson, is to fly it on a SLS. That means that they will have to start lobbying for SLS - and against (or not in support of) Earth science and/or commercial crew (where their extra Europa money will come from). Of course SLS is at the heart of NASA's #JourneyToMars so the Planetary Society will have to start to support that effort (which is also eating Europa funds) and not their Almost-Mission to Mars concept.

NASA budget proposal widens divide between White House and Congress, Ars Technica

"Although NASA is proceeding with development of the SLS, a number of outside panels have questioned whether NASA can afford to build, fly and, sustain the expensive program, especially with projections of low flight rates of one launch or fewer per year. The biggest concern is that the rocket is so expensive to fly it precludes a meaningful exploration program within NASA's existing budget."

Keith's note: With the cuts to both SLS and Orion in the Administration's FY 2017 budget you can expect the same food fight with Congress to pick up where it left off last time. And as was the case before, Congress will go after Commercial Crew and Cargo, Technology, and Earth Science to put SLS and Orion back at the level Congress wants. Of course, election time will soon skew everything and the chances that there will be a formal budget will drop. The net result is that NASA will not know for certain what its budget will be and this uncertainty will cause launch dates to slip to the right. With these slips the overall cost of the SLS and Orion programs will increase - and commercial crew will take longer to happen than might otherwise be the case.

Naturally, the next Administration will stall for time and eventually appoint a blue ribbon panel to write a report and the cycle will start all over again. Their conclusion will be that NASA has no plan (and that it needs to hurry up and develop one) and, by the way, NASA cannot do all of the things it has been tasked to do under a budget that does not grow. Considering that all of these arguments are set to occur under a NASA budget that is likely going to stay flat, nothing will change since no one will give up pushing for the things that they want NASA to do. The inevitable result will be that NASA will end up with a launch system that will have nothing to launch on the imaginary #JourneyToNowhere.

NASA's asteroid mission isn't dead yet, Ars Technica

"This week, as the agency's chief financial officer, David Radzanowski, discussed the president's budget in a conference call with reporters, he let slip a seemingly huge piece of news. The robotic spacecraft NASA planned to grab an asteroid boulder would not launch in 2020, as originally planned, but some time in the early- to mid-2020s. The agency's notional launch date had changed to 2023, Radzanowski said. But he then cautioned reporters not to focus on that date. It could be earlier than that, he said, adding: "Don't get fixated that there's a delay at this point in time." But it is difficult to see 2023 as anything but a three-year delay."

Keith's note: This evaporating interest is not surprising given that NASA never really knew why it was doing this Asteroid Boulder Retrieval Mission anyway. Either it was/was not trying to protect Earth and/or this was/was not a stepping stone on the #JourneyToMars or something. Charlie Bolden's confusion on this topic was in evidence last year at budget time:

- Earlier posts on Bolden and asteroids

Introducing Asteroid Day, ESA

"The press conference to reveal the events and partners for Asteroid Day 2016 is due to start on Tuesday, 9 February at 1500 CET (1400 UTC). It is being held at ESA's ESTEC technical centre in Noordwijk, the Netherlands."

Asteroid Day Press Event

"Building on the highly successful first-ever Asteroid Day in 2015, organisers, together with the European Space Agency, will announce partners and the addition of premier and independently organised events for Asteroid Day 2016, scheduled for June 30 around the world. The Press Conference will use multimedia platforms to accommodate speakers from around the world."

Keith's note: Interesting. People from all over the world are gathering in person and remotely for this event. This makes sense given the global nature of the threat posed by asteroid impacts. One thing that is glaringly absent about this event: not a single participant is representing NASA. This is especially bizzarre given that NASA has a multi-billion dollar mission (ARM) to retrieve a piece of a Near Earth Object and return it to Earth. NASA trips over itself to cite all of the reasons why this mission is important (to NASA) including lots of asteroid threat studies. Yet when it comes to this global effort: nothing but crickets.

And then this release comes out from PSI promoting the use of the NASA Webb Space Telescope to observe NEOs.

James Webb Space Telescope to Offer Better View of Near Earth Objects, PSI

"NASA's James Webb Space Telescope will allow scientists to better find, study and understand Near Earth Objects (NEOs), a new paper by a Planetary Science Institute researcher said. ... From its orbital position, JWST could have access to observe nearly three-fourths of NEOs, and nearly all asteroids and comets beyond Mars could be observed."

Space experts warn Congress that NASA's "Journey to Mars" is illusory, Ars Technica

"Another panelist, Tom Young, the former director of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and former president and chief operating officer of the Martin Marietta Corporation, agreed that NASA does not currently have a clear pathway to Mars. "What we do not have is a plan, strategy, or architecture with sufficient detail that takes us from today to humans on the surface of Mars," he said. Young said he favored continuing with a mission to Mars but that following such a course required hard choices and narrowing NASA's focus. The agency cannot both have a flourishing program in low Earth orbit with the International Space Station while also trying to mount a Mars exploration program, he argued. Agency officials have said they are not ready to talk in detail about Mars plans because they are evolving."

Congress asks: Can NASA really get astronauts to Mars?, Christian Science Monitor

"We pretend that we are on a '#JourneytoMars,' but in fact, possess neither the technology nor the economic resources necessary to undertake a human Mars mission now or within the foreseeable future," testified Paul Spudis, senior scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute, a Texas-based space research institution."

The Moon or Mars? NASA Must Pick 1 Goal for Astronauts, Experts Tell Congress, Space.com

"[Tom] Young spoke about the desire to have fewer "tombstones" for cancelled projects and more "memorials" to successful ones. He reiterated the thesis of his opening remarks, that what NASA needs more than anything is a concrete plan for how it should proceed. "I am personally passionate about humans going to Mars, but I'm equally passionate about a good, disciplined plan that is not frivolous," he said. "A plan that does what is required, but also doesn't just do what's possible."

Many politicians are unhappy with what they see as NASA's disregard for concrete details and deadlines, Inverse

"The committee seemed most irritated about how the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) NASA's plan to send a robotic spacecraft to a near-Earth asteroid, pick up a giant boulder, and bring it to lunar orbit for a crew to study fits into the overall Mars objective. .. [ARM] is a misguided mission without a mission, without a launch date, and without ties to exploration goals," said Representative Lamar Smith from Texas. "It's just a time-wasting distraction."

- ASAP: NASA Has No Plan or Firm Funding For Its #JourneyToMars
- Kicking The Can Down the Road to Mars, earlier post
- NASA Begins Its Journey To Nowhere, earlier post
- Yet Another NASA Mars "Plan" Without A Plan - or a Budget, earlier post
- NASA's Strategic Plan Isn't Strategic - or a Plan, earlier post
- Charlie Bolden's Meandering Strategic Plans, earlier post


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