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Report From Slow Motion Advisory Committee on Human Space Flight

By Keith Cowing
NASA Watch
June 4, 2014
Filed under , , , , ,

NASA Should Maintain Long-Term Focus on Mars as “Horizon Goal” for Human Space Exploration
“The technical analysis completed for this study shows that for the foreseeable future, the only feasible destinations for human exploration are the moon, asteroids, Mars, and the moons of Mars,” Lunine added. “Among this small set of plausible goals, the most distant and difficult is putting human boots on the surface of Mars, thus that is the horizon goal for human space exploration. All long-range space programs by our potential partners converge on this goal.”
Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration (report)
NASA Statement on National Research Council Report on Human Spaceflight
“NASA welcomes the release of this report. After a preliminary review, we are pleased to find the NRC’s assessment and identification of compelling themes for human exploration are consistent with the bipartisan plan agreed to by Congress and the Administration in the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 and that we have been implementing ever since.”

Yet Another Slow Motion Advisory Committee on Human Space Flight, Nov 2012
“Net result: the committee’s advice will be out of synch with reality and somewhat overtaken by events having taken a total of 3 years, 7 months to complete. Oh yes: the cost of this study? $3.6 million. The soonest that a NASA budget could be crafted that took this committee’s advice into account would be the FY 2016 budget request. NASA and OMB will interact on the FY 2016 budget during Fall 2014 and it won’t be announced until early 2015 – 4 1/2 years after this committee and its advice was requested in the NASA Authorization Act 2010.”
Keith’s note: Is this the final report – or one of those 3 page “letter” interim reports they like to issue? I guess we will find out shortly. If it is the final report then it is being released early. That reduces its irrelevancy (but not completely). If it is being completed a year early, will the NRC issue NASA a refund – or did they burn all the money to speed things up? They never answer these questions.
Why Does Space Policy Always Suck?, October 2013
“This self-perpetuating space policy echo chamber existed before sequesters, shutdowns, and CRs and it will continue to exist once this current budget nonsense is resolved – and it will survive as future congressional calamities ensue. Yet people still wonder why, after all these years, the process whereby space policy is developed sucks so very much – and why NASA finds it harder and harder to do what it is chartered to do.”
Space Studies Board is (Not Really) Interested In What You Think, earlier post
NAS Space Studies Board Quietly Announces Online Public Access After Event Starts, earlier post

NASA Watch founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.

12 responses to “Report From Slow Motion Advisory Committee on Human Space Flight”

  1. savuporo says:

    Great ! Another report to ignore ! Print out 10 copies for each middle management guy who actually do not decide anything immediately !

  2. John Kavanagh says:

    I’ll discard the Aldridge Report to make some room and place this on the shelf to the right of the Augustine Commission’s. The Journey to Inspire & Innovate was looking ratty with all those redactions and inserts of ESAS 60-day study sheets.

  3. JadedObs says:

    Perhaps the problem is we just don’t have the will to make a well informed decision. Most reports that have been done have beed well thought through – but our political system has the attention span of a 2 year old with ADD…

  4. Tritium3H says:

    This, and so many other studies, and plans of studies, remind me of this Monty Python scene from “Life of Brian”:

  5. redrum666 says:

    Lately I’ve been wondering about “maintaining our industrial base” – which seems to be one of the main, if not explicitly stated, objectives of SLS. Perhaps we’re doing the exact opposite; crippling our existing capabilities. What happens when you pour hundreds of millions of dollars into a contractor without hard deliverables (flights)?. I think you just end up with a large bureaucracy – layers upon layers of management struggling to justify their existence. Internal gates and hurdles get created. Decision making is slowed to a crawl, as every possible entity insists on input – serving to elevate their status within the organization. From the top, the goal is simply to spend the money – and to justify (maximize) the profits “earned” on that spending. As you drill down into the organization, the goal becomes to ensure you have a piece of the pie – to create an important role to play – so that you are guaranteed a piece of future contracts (to keep your job).

    When the time comes to actually deliver a functional system – the bureaucracies, inefficiencies, internal policies and procedures – left in the wake of this mess – make it almost impossible to execute a (real) program efficiently. It’s a hard monster to unwind – at every corner, you’ll find an employee or department fighting for their very survival. It’s pretty much a guarantee that any and all attempts to streamline will be held up in the name of “safety”.

    I suspect we’d be much better off feeding these behemoths a series of fixed price, short term contracts with hard deliverables. Breed efficiency into them be offering lucrative, but difficult to meet, challenges – paid (only!) upon success. Offer a (really big) fixed dollar figure to the first company to – I dunno – bring back 20kgs of mars soil. Or maybe move a small asteroid into an orbit around the moon. I don’t think it matters so much what the challenge is – so long as it is difficult, but incrementally do-able by evolving existing technology. The important thing is to structure it so that we reward and encourage efficiency, quick decision making, creativity, etc.

    When it comes time to deliver on something that we really care about – perhaps an actually viable manned space flight program beyond LEO – maybe we’d have companies who are better structured, and prepared to deliver.

  6. Dave Brandt says:

    So, the value of planetary protection, which almost certainly involve humans in space closely targeting or moving a Hazardous Earth Object, is unworthy of merit? Am I the only one who thinks that once again, a blue-ribbon panel of self-interested experts has missed the mark? Let’s hope that asteroid hits sometime later in the century when the youth of today have matured beyond our current leaders abilities.

    • JadedObs says:

      For some reason, the answer some posit to a potential asteroid impact is to be sure we have some people living on Mars – as if that’s going to help the 99.999999+% who would still on Earth!

  7. Anonymous says:

    Another report firmly “inside the box”. From pg. 19, “Either the United States will need to increase the budget for human spaceflight
    by substantially more than the rate of inflation over the coming decades, or international contributions would have to be unprecedented in scale, or both.” When will we get the report about all that has to change, improve and how that would add up to great accomplishments, within the foreseen NASA budgets? Maybe leading to a day when budgets go up because it has been clearly shown what great accomplishments can be done within existing budgets. Oh wait, that would be blaming us, and asking NASA and it’s partners to change, instead of someone else, and we can’t have that.

  8. savuporo says:

    Wow, talk about head in the sand analysis with dogmas. First, the assumption is Mars, nothing else. There is absolutely no reason to be in space than just to get a human on Mars.
    No alternate ideas considered, rely only on NASA input. Commercial sector is not a factor at all.
    Effectively, the report should not be titled “Human spaceflight” but “Ins and outs of NASA’s Mars myopia”

  9. John Kavanagh says:

    How can these commission reports sincerely say NASA requires a larger budget when NASA’s historical spending pattern, under direction of Congress and White House, continues to squander what billions it has already been appropriated?

    NASA poured $1.2B through J-2X and then mothballed it this year; spent $300M on an X-37 space plane then tossed it over to USAF; laid out $264M for the Ares 1 mobile launcher followed by $445M on the Ares 1-X flight before both of those were scuttled.

    And then there is Orion. Before we get to this year’s $375M ETF-1 test flight on a Delta IV, NASA already managed to spend $6.4B and 8 years putting the capsule through a series of dunk/float tests and cross-country rides with the big rig. There appears to be no sense of urgency nor results commensurate with the budget amounts spent.

    If given the additional billions that this report suggests the agency requires, NASA+Congress+WH’s record doesn’t portend anything other than more wasteful spending on soon-to-be-cancelled programs and over-budget cost-plus procurement with the Apollo/Shuttle industrial complex supervised by a dozen redundant NASA centers.

    (COTS/CRS is the unprecedented successful anomaly here.)

    NASA’s modus operandi is unaffordable and has historically proven unable to execute the recommendations of these committees.

  10. Anonymous says:

    It’s also curious that for a report that mentions inflation so often (52 times) and runs scenarios where understanding inflation is critical, that no real meat is put to what aerospace inflation even is in general, or more specifically what may drive costs over time in any projects in the NASA spaceflight portfolio. Take that chart on page 4-50. So this wedge of money for new things (at it’s maximum) comes from taking everything else and holding those things flat. No mention is made of how that happens, why costs did not inflate there, or what improvements are required to allow the same content or purchasing power over time. But the cost inflation is used to say ask for a budget inflating at that same amount, none of which (or not all?) will apply to existing projects. These will not see cost inflation?

    Such an approach begs to ask how or what changed in these other projects? That was the golden opportunity in the report to say how these projects must change, and then to relate that to opening a wedge of size X-regardless of budgets going up. Instead the scenarios is kept at the level of a what-if exercise, which can be so misleading, as the wedge is all that people will pay attention to; this magical what-if money of such a large amount over time!

    So if inflation were 5% this scenario says the budget would also go up 5%, right? They forget to generalize the idea as well. Perhaps because that would again beg for understanding what this inflation is, or what’s the nature of opening any wedge in anyway?

    Denial at it’s best, done with numbers, and well done at that.

  11. Kathleen Zoller says:

    Expository Essay: Space Exploration

    Outer space. It has been one of the most fascinating subject to mankind ever since before the Greek astronomers. Humans have always dreamed about going to outer space. But now that we can, there are also people who believe that we should reconsider. Different people have different opinions about space exploration. Some people think that we should explore space because it’s cheap, the money may otherwise be squandered, it will help us better understand ourselves, and it will help us survive, while other people say that space exploration is a waste because we could use the money for Earth’s problems.

    Some people are of the opinion that space travel is worth the money because it’s cheap. Once you think about it, it really isn’t that expensive. According to NASA, they are planning to send a ship to Mars that is able to make the return trip, at only a cost of US $1.6 billion. Dr. Elachi, director of the jet propulsion laboratory, says that “the cost of this mission per American citizen is less than $5. That’s less than a ticket to a movie.” (paragraph 6 ‘Dan Satherley’.) When you consider the size of the U.S economy, that isn’t a whole lot. This is one reason that some people believe that space exploration is worth it.

    Another reason that people think it’s worth the money is because it may otherwise be squandered. They believe that the government probably wouldn’t use it for anything useful. According to the book “Packing for Mars” by Mary Roach, she states “Yes, the money could be better spent on Earth. But would it? Since when has money saved by government red-lining been spent on education and cancer research? It is always squandered. So let’s squander some on Mars. Let’s go out and play.” This shows that some people don’t think that the government would use the money for anything useful. This is another reason that people are of the opinion that space exploration is worth it.

    Some people think that space exploration is worth it because it helps us better understand ourselves. With the knowledge of space, we can learn what we’re made of. Mr. B. Nye, a famous American science educator, writer and scientist says that “People say ‘why make observation about the stars? Why look into space?’ And I say ‘it gives us a perspective of where we are in the universe. We are made of the same material as the stars are! You, me, the camera, and your television set are made of the same stuff as stars. So, we have to study space to understand what we’re made of.” (Bill Nye the Science Guy: “Space” 00:22:55 min.) This proves that people believe that we should study space to learn what we’re made out of. Another reason people are of the opinion that we should explore space.

    People also believe that we should explore space because it will help us survive. In order to save the human race, we would eventually need to move to another planet. According to Stephen Hawking, a cosmologist and an English theoretical physicist, “I don’t believe that mankind will survive the following years, unless all of us will propagate into space. There are just too many accidents that could destroy life on a single planet.”(paragraph 2 ‘Kyle Bear.) The planet is also getting too crowded. Some people would have to relocate in order to make room on Earth. As of 17 July 2011, the total Earth population approximated by the American Census Bureau to be 6,797,700,000. The planet inhabitants have been increasing constantly ever since around 1400. (Paragraph 4 ‘Kyle Bear’.) This proves that Earth is getting way too crowded. Another reason that people think that we should explore space.

    Some people are of the opinion that space exploration is a total waste because we could use the money to solve other problems.We could use the money for problems on Earth. According to Ed Perry, author of the article about ‘space programs’ for the poor says that that money could be used for the single mothers struggling to get by that money. They could strap into a large, spinning gyroscope that tests the effect of g-force on the human body to make money. And the money could be given to the countless homeless, who need more than anything a space station of their own. Also, according to Zaina Adamu, a 2010 CNN/ORC poll found that 50% of Americans that the money used on space exploration should be used elsewhere. (Paragraph 6 “Exploring Space: Why’s it so important?”) This evidence proves that some people think that the money used on space exploration could be used elsewhere. This is a reason that people are of the opinion that space exploration isn’t worth it.

    So, different people have different opinions about space exploration. Some say that space exploration is worth it because it isn’t that expensive, the money may otherwise be squandered, it will help us better understand ourselves, and may help us survive, while other people say that it is a waste because we could be using the money for Earth’s problems.

    Different people have different opinions about space travel, which is good because it will help us consider our decisions about the subject more deeply.