TrumpSpace: February 2020 Archives

NASA planning document may offer clues to changes in Artemis program, Ars Technica

"For this assessment, about 60 people at the agency and from industry sought to determine the status of the program as it was currently structured. After the analysis, Loverro told staffers at NASA he had "concerns" about whether the existing plan would work. In particular, during internal briefings, Loverro expressed doubts about the remote assembly of elements of the lunar lander at the Gateway. He also wanted NASA engineers to make sure the Orion spacecraft, with crew on board, could dock to the lander without the Gateway. The potential revision of this plan, which may entail the launch of an entire lunar lander on an upgraded version of the SLS rocket, is notable for several reasons. Perhaps most significantly, it would place primary responsibility for NASA's Moon program on the shoulders of Boeing. That company is building the core stage of the SLS rocket, as well as an upgraded upper stage--the Exploration Upper Stage--that would now be required for use by August 2024 on the Block 1B version of the SLS. In fact, it would be required to accelerate development of the beefier SLS rocket."

Keith's note: NASA and the military have done low level things together for half a century when an astronaut from one of the service branches has flown in space. The two organizations share a common aeronautical and engineering heritage - so this is not at all surprising. But there has always been a clear line denoting NASA's chartered nature as a civilian organization. But now the brand new Space Force is dialing up that interaction - using NASA imagery on social media to promote a large, national military-themed event on board a NASA (civilian) spacecraft. Oddly NASA is not telling anyone about this event at NASA.gov - it is not on the home page or on the NASA.gov calendar. But it you happen to dig down into the schedule for NASA TV it is listed. NASA overtly promotes events between ISS astronauts and a hundred kids at a grammar school - why not this event? Just sayin'

Meanwhile. it is sort of strage that while the Space Force PR squad is pumping out social media posts with pictures of astronauts in space - and then swearing a bunch of them in - from space - that the deputy Space Force guy says that there is scant opportunity for any recruits to actually go into space. Looks like they need to work on their messaging - this is bit like the old "bait and switch" marketing ploy

Space Force's second-in-command admits he's a Star Trek fan but says there's 'almost ZERO' chance for recruits to follow in the footsteps of his heroes and go into space with his organization, Daily Mail

"The Space Force will also have a series of sensors on the ground, hiring 26,000 people with a $12 billion annual budget. But he warned that budding astronauts need not apply. 'That opportunity to be an astronaut inside the Space Force today is almost zero. The best thing to do if you want to be an astronaut is go talk to NASA,' he declared. 'But the rest of the world is going in the direction of the Space Force. We're talking about remotely piloted aircraft, drones, artificial intelligence, vehicles that operate by remote control or autonomous control -- that's Space Force.'"

https://s3.amazonaws.com/images.spaceref.com/news/2020/19feb2020pence.jpg

Remarks by Vice President Pence to NASA Langley Research Center, White House (larger word cloud image)

"The President has directed NASA and the Administrator to accomplish our goal to return to the Moon and then on to Mars not only within five years, but let me be clear: The President has made it clear that we're going to accomplish this goal by any means necessary. In order to succeed, we are going to continue to focus on the mission over the means. We want to challenge each one of you here at Langley: Consider every available option and platform to meet our goals, including industry, government, and the entire American space enterprise. It's the reason why we're cutting out the underbrush of needless regulations and barriers to innovation, because we want you all to be able to reach, to engage, and to draw on the best ideas in America to get us where we're going by the time we set ourselves to get there. Our administration is absolutely committed to this goal and we want you all to have the same determination and resolve to get there. And this President and this administration and the American people are committed to achieving this goal through NASA and through the Langley Research Center. So let me at least give you one word of admonition on behalf of your President and on behalf of the entire National Space Council: More than ever before, we want you to engage your imaginations, your creativity. Challenge one another. You know, there's that old proverb that says, "Iron sharpens iron." So I encourage you to come in every day with that same impatience and energy that, frankly, I heard in the voices of everybody that Director Turner introduced me to today. The enthusiasm as we walked through the Center, the fire in their eyes -- just let that be in your eyes."

Keith's note: The Washington Post (owned by Jeff Bezos) ran a full page advertisement/op ed by Blue Origin (also owned by Jeff Bezos) in today's Washington Post written in response to a recent editorial about space policy by the Washington Post editorial board.

NASA keeps falling victim to presidential whims, Washington Post (image of full advertisement)

"Mars (of which the Moon is a part)" is either nonsense or exactly what legislators in the House of Representatives seem to have their eye on today: putting humans on the moon only as a jumping-off point to explore the red planet in person. That's different from the plan NASA is envisioning, despite the president's contradictory tweets; the agency looks to Mars in the distant future but treats the moon as an end in itself -- where it can establish bases on the far side and mine lunar ice, ostensibly for life support and rocket fuel. There's a powerful argument that satisfying the human drive to know doesn't actually require humans. Robots can do lots of exploring for lots less money than it costs to put people on (or float people above) celestial bodies; projects from the Curiosity rover to the Cassini spacecraft and beyond have taught us so. There's also an argument that the private companies increasingly interested in low-orbit adventuring should be entrusted with as much as they're able to carry out, to save NASA money and to ensure that exploratory work continues even as the whims of politicians shift. (Disclosure: One of those companies is owned by Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos, who also owns The Post.) These shifting whims are the greatest threat to a space program constantly afflicted by whiplash. Preferable as a greater emphasis on robotics might be, leaders are unlikely to stop insisting on going places because we can. These long-term goals are most likely to be achieved if they're guided by thoughtful science and professional planning, rather than the allure of a potential geopolitical coup or the grievances of constituent contractors. The longer the politicians argue back and forth about the moon vs. Mars, the less likely we are to go to either one."

To which Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith responds:

"Recently, the Washington Post editorial board cited presidential whim as being at the heart of today's efforts to push for greater United States leadership and focus in space. That view is representative of uniformed critiques that come from many corners and have helped stymie well-intentioned prior efforts to move our nation forward into space. It fails to recognize the massive shifts in the space industry that allow us to maje greater strides and the emerging threats that require us to re-double our efforts. Last year, the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo landing on the Moon reminded us of the great pioneering capabilities and innovation that the U.S. has always demonstrated. But the first steps of Apollo were just that - the first steps in an unprecedented journey that is just beginning. ... All the forces - economic, political, technological, cultural - are in place for this transformation and we are now participating in an historic moment. This inevitable expansion will not be stopped by those that waiver and merely critique, but will be forged by those across government and industry who are un apologetic in their vision, and who are unafraid to build and to dream."

Trump budget cuts funding for health, science, environment agencies, Washington Post

"President Trump once again is asking Congress to make major cuts to the budgets of science and health agencies while favoring research deemed essential to national security. The 2021 budget request delivered Monday to Congress includes a nearly 10 percent cut to Health and Human Services and a 26 percent cut to the Environmental Protection Agency. It asks for increases in funding for research on quantum computing and artificial intelligence, areas in which the United States competes with China. Trump also wants to grant NASA a multibillion-dollar boost to help the space agency put astronauts back on the moon. Trump budgets have repeatedly targeted agencies and programs that deal with science, health and the environment, but if tradition holds, the requested cuts have little chance of winning approval from the House of Representatives, which has the power of the purse and a Democratic majority."

Keith's note: Learning that the White House has singled NASA out for a substantial budget increase is always welcome news for the space community since it highlights the fact that space is important and space people think that space is important. Add in strong mention in the State of The Union address and at other high visibility events, a push for Space Force, and space folks certainly have a right to feel that there is new wind in their sails. One small problem: much of this is temporary. Alas, as has been the case in the past, large cuts in social services, education, science, and infrastructural budgets fall flat when they arrive at Congress. NASA stands out as a target by virtue of its large plus up while everyone else is getting cut back. Soon we'll hear the old saws "why spend money in space when it is needed here on Earth" and "We already did the Moon thing 50 years ago". As inspirational as this 12% increase is, the chances that it will actually happen are not very encouraging.

Today at the Space Foundation's State of Space event, Rep. Kendra Horn, the lead proponent of the recent NASA Authorization Act that is making its way through Congress said that the 12% proposed increase in NASA's budget is welcome, but that it does not address the $5-6 billion that she says that NASA has told her that they need every year to make the 2024 Artemis lunar landing to happen - and by the way where is NASA's actual plan to do this? When asked about the interest in having actual private sector participation in Artemis as proposed by the White House, Horn said instead that making everyone NASA contractors is better - something her NASA Authorization Act strives to do. Add in the Act's gutting of actual lunar utilization and exploration after the landings begin we'd be facing a Flags and Footprints 2.0 situation. Just as a huge NASA budget increase is going to be hard to sell to Congress against a backdrop of cuts elsewhere, spending any large amount of money on NASA - with or without a big increase - to go back and walk around on the Moon is going to be a hard sell as well when basic support services are on the chopping block.

When asked if she thought Artemis could survive the election and a possible change in the White House Horn replied that her authorization act had bipartisan support - so that was a good sign. We all saw what the Obama Administration did to the Bush Administration's human spaceflight program plan when they took over and what happened to Obama's space efforts when the Trump team took over. Horn referred to a certain amount of "whiplash" as being an integral part of what passes for space policy - and that this back and forth contributes to a lot of the problems we see in what NASA is doing or not doing at any given moment.

Now that I have served up a pile of negativity, lets look on the bright side. There is great interest - globally - in going back to the Moon - with both humans and robots, to do science and exploration, to both further national goals and conduct private sector projects. Oh yea Mars too. Alas, no one is exactly on the same page. Until we have an actual national strategy with goals, objectives, roles, and responsibilities clearly enumerated then this ad hoc, constantly pivoting approach is going to continue to stumble along. It takes more than short presidential directives or tedious, verbose NASA authorization Acts to make that happen. Barking orders and long wish lists chopped up into 4 year long bite size pieces won't work. It never has. We're just kicking the can down the road. Will someone please fix this? Thanks.

https://s3.amazonaws.com/images.spaceref.com/news/2015/canmars.jpgKicking The Can Down the Road to Mars, 2015, earlier post

"And of course none of these Mars missions in the 2030s are in any budget - notional, proposed, or projected - that means anything to anyone actually working at NASA today. So it is hard to blame people who can't give you a straight answer. Just look at what their management has given them to work with - and what the agency has had to work with in terms of guidance from Congress and the White House. Just in the past 10-12 years NASA has veered away from the shuttle towards the Moon, then away from the ISS to Mars and away from the Moon and back to ISS, and now back to Mars (and maybe the Moon) and also some boulder on an asteroid."

- NASA Administrator Statement on Moon to Mars Initiative, FY 2021 Budget

- NASA FY 2021 Budget Info, NASA

- FY 2021 Budget, OMB

Keith's 9 Feb update: NASA is on page 101. Some highlights:

"The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is responsible for leading an innovative program of exploration that would return American astronauts to the Moon by 2024 and build a sustainable presence on the lunar surface as the first steps on a journey that will take America to Mars.

The Budget increases funding for innovative programs that would land astronauts on the Moon and support precursor missions and advanced technologies that would enable further exploration. The Budget also supports a broad range of high-performing NASA programs that are not directly supporting the Moon to Mars program, and includes reductions to some lower-performing programs.

The Budget provides $25.2 billion for NASA, a 12-percent increase from the 2020 enacted level.

The Budget provides robust funding for the programs that support this goal, including $3.4 billion for the development of lander systems, over $700 million to support lunar surface activities, and $233 million for robotic precursor missions to Mars that would also conduct cutting-edge science.

The Budget defers funding of upgrades--known as "Block 1B"--for the SLS, and instead focuses the program on completing the initial version of the SLS and ensuring a reliable SLS and Orion annual flight cadence. While a potentially beneficial future capability, the costly Block 1B upgrades are not needed to land astronauts on the Moon.

Consistent with prior budgets, the Budget provides no funding for the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope, two Earth science missions, and the Office of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Engagement. The Budget continues to support education activities such as internships and fellowships funded outside of the Office of STEM Engagement. The Budget also proposes to terminate the SOFIA telescope, which has not proven to be as scientifically productive as other missions."

Trump said to propose roughly $3 billion NASA budget boost for 2021, TechCrunch

"President Donald Trump is set to request a budget of $25.6 billion for NASA for its fiscal 2021 operating year, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday. It's looking for nearly $3 billion more than the $22.6 billion NASA had for its current fiscal year, and the bulk of the new funding is said to be earmarked for development of new human lunar landers. This represents one of the single largest proposed budget increases for NASA in a couple of decades, but reflects Trump's renewed commitment to the agency's efforts as expressed during the State of the Union address he presented on February 4, during which he included a request to Congress to "fully fund the Artemis program to ensure that the next man and first woman on the Moon will be American astronauts."

Trump's 'manifest destiny' in space revives old phrase to provocative effect, Washington Post

"In reaffirming our heritage as a free nation, we must remember that America has always been a frontier nation," he told members of Congress, about three-quarters of the way through his speech. "Now we must embrace the next frontier: America's manifest destiny in the stars." Minutes later, some people on social media were alarmed. The phrase is anything but politically correct, on the left at least. And Trump and his base enjoy pushing the left's buttons.

Keith's note: Sometimes the best tweets are the tweets you never send, Jim Morhard.


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