Thursday, July 30, 2009

Transcript: Blog from Cocoa Beach space panel

Editor's Note: What follows is an archive of our live blog from today's meeting of the Human Space Flight Plans Committee in Cocoa Beach. The posts are time-stamped and appear in reverse order, with the last items first. Click read more after these three initial posts to see a complete transcript of our blog from today's session.

James Dean: Other tidbits from Augustine's press conference: extending the shuttle is the only way to close a projected five-year gap in U.S. human spaceflight launches. But extending the shuttle would drain funding for new vehicles. That means a new heavy-lifter like Ares V and Mars missions would be a long way away. Only it the shuttle and International Space Station are shut down on schedule, in 2010 and 2015 respectively, could NASA maintain a slow-paced program that reaches beyond low Earth orbit. If not, he said, travel beyond low Earth orbit slips "well into the future." Employment and retention of critical skills will be factors, among others, in the scoring of different program options.

James Dean: The meeting is over. Panel chairmand Norm Augustine stepped out near the end for a 20-minute press conference. He explained that the committee will present five or so options to the Obama administration, ranging from a current budgeted 10-year plans of about $80 billion to "substantially more." The committee's next public meeting is next Wednesday in Washington, DC.

James Dean: A Kennedy Space Center engineer, expressing personal views, is speaking in support of the Jupiter Direct rocket architecture as an alternative to Constellation. He said it's clear Ares I is in trouble, on life support, and morale at KSC is sinking quickly. The sooner a change is made and implemented, the better.

James Dean: Lou Jamison is president of a machinists union representing 1,500 workers at Kennedy Space Center: The panel should strive to eliminate or significantly reduce the gap between shuttle and the next program. But members' concern isn't just jobs - it's inconceivable that the nation would rely on another country to launch Americans into space, he said.

James Dean: Today's meeting is entering the public comment period. Fifteen people will be provided up to three minutes each for comments.

James Dean: Constellation program manager Jeff Hanley offered closing remarks. At this crucial juncture, he said, do we press forward or retreat to reformulate strategy? NASA is about trailblazing new frontiers, he said, and government can afford to take risks no one else can. Commerce follows. Constellation takes advantage of heritage infrastructure to improve safety and provide heavy-lift capability, he said.

James Dean: Ed Mango is explaining the Space Transportation Planning Office, whose charter is to establish methodologies and processes needed to operate human spaceflight systems while new capabilities are developed. For example, after the Ares I rocket was certified, the office would take control of budget, schedule and technical content to free designers up to work on new systems.

James Dean: Bob Ess, manager of the Ares I-X mission, is offering an overview of the Constellation program's first developmental test flight, targeted for launch Oct. 31 from pad 39B at KSC. The Ares I-X rocket is based on a four-segment shuttle solid rocket boosterl, with a dummy fifth segment. It will provide data to improve design of flight dynamics through maximum aerodynamic pressure, upper stage separation and parachutes.

James Dean: Phillips: Constellation is building a new mobile launcher platform for the Ares I rocket. The strucure is 51 percent complete. Next to it on the ground are pieces that will form an umbilical tower.

James Dean: Phillips has outlined a number of KSC infrastructure changes to accomodate Ares rockets after the shuttle. At launch pad 39B, three 600-foot lightning towers are the most visible change. A shuttle lightning mast was removed from the pad, along with the orbiter access arm and gaseous oxygen venting "beanie cap" that tops the external fuel tank. Design of a new rail-based emergency escape system for crews is nearly complete. it would replace the slide wire system used by the shuttle.

James Dean: Pepper Phillips, manager of Kennedy Space Center ground operations for the Constellation program, is providing an overview of spaceport assets including Launch Complex 39, the Vehicle Assembly Building and crawlerway. The program's first goal was to leverage shuttle and space station assets.

James Dean: The meeting is reconvening. Next on the agenda is a briefing on Kennedy Space Center's ground operations support for NASA's Constellation program, including modifications to facilities like launch pad 39B.

James Dean: The committee has adjourned for lunch until 1:15 p.m.

James Dean: Following Kosmas is a statement from U.S. Rep. Bill Posey of Rockledge, read by a staffer. He is enumerating NASA's spinoff technology benefits and its importance to national security, economic development and the inspiration of new generations of scientists and engineers.

Todd Halvorson: A statement from U.S. Rep Suzanne Kosmas, which is being read by a member of her staff. Kosmas says a strong space program is critical to our national security and our economy. She says the decisions made by the committee and ultimately the president will have great impact on our economy in central Florida.

Todd Halvorson: The committee now is hearing from U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez. He says the nation's human spaceflight program is at a crossroads. He says that the shuttle program should be terminated as scheduled despite job losses, and the planned heavy-lift vehicle development should be accelerated. He also said the committee should not change up the architecture NASA plans because it would increase costs and cause additional delays.

Todd Halvorson: A video taped by Sen. Bill Nelson is now playing. Nelson is telling the commission that its report will give the president the information he needs to chart the course forward for the U.S. human spaceflight program. A transcript of the video shows that Nelson will urge the committee to extend the life of the International Space Station through at least 2020 since the nation has invested so much in the outpost. He also will urge the committee to make sure NASA is given the time and money required to fly out the remaining shuttle missions safely.

Todd Halvorson: Florida Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp says that the gap between the end of the shuttle program and the first flights of new vehicles will result in the loss of 7,000 jobs at Kennedy Space Center and 20,000 jobs, indirectly, elsewhere in the state. He says the job losses are far more than any other state. The gap will demolish the nation's space program, decimate the work force and cause a devastating economic shock throughout the state, he said.

Todd Halvorson: Florida politicians, including Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp, are giving the committee their input either in person, like Kottkamp, or via letter, or with videos. Sen. Bill Nelson and others submitted video statements that will be played before the committee breaks for lunch.

James Dean: NASA does not have the budget to meet current goals. Above all, Chris Chyba said, the nation must decide to fund such a program appropriately, or be honest about reduced ambitions. The country should not promise a glorious future in space that in reality is no more than a paper tiger, he said.

James Dean: What is the reason for human exploration beyond low Earth orbit? Human expansion into the solar system, not science, says Princeton University professor Christopher Chyba. That should be the basis for determining future policy and architecture.

Todd Halvorson: The subcommittee is recommending that NASA consider developing an architecture that proactively engage commercial space by making an explicit market of services in space.

Todd Halvorson: Another option that deserves consideration is using propulsion systems other than the chemical propulsion systems now used, committee member Jeff Gleason says. Solar-electric propulsion or nuclear propulsion could be considered for Earth-departure stages -- the rocket systems that would propel crew transports from low Earth orbit to solar system destinations.

Todd Halvorson: Committee member Jeff Gleason is proposing that the U.S. establish propellant-storage and transfer stations in low Earth orbit. The approach would be a "game-changer" for missions to the moon, Mars and beyond.

Todd Halvorson: Jeff Gleason says the government ought to consider offering Atlas V 402 vehicles as a government-provided launcher for crew taxi capsules. He says the human-rating of such a vehicle already is largely done because national security missions launched on Atlas V vehicles have reliability that is similar to human-rated vehicles as a result of the huge amount of mission assurance that goes into launching critical national security payloads.

Todd Halvorson: Committee member Jeff Gleason is talking about how the subcommittee working on missions beyond Earth orbit will interface with the group looking into launch vehicles for missions to low Earth orbit.

Todd Halvorson: The committee is going to pare to three the destination scenarios. The chosen ones: Lunar Global, visiting many sites on the moon in short sorties first and then longer stays that would prepare for Mars missions; In Space, which is the option to fly deep space sorties but not initially land on other planetary surfaces; and Mars First, which would skip the moon unless it made sense to do a "touch-and-go" test flight to check out systems before heading to the red planet.

Todd Halvorson: The final scenario is a flexible program that would send astronauts on deep space missions that would visit the moon, Mars and other destinations but not land during initial missions. The idea is to gain experience in deep space operations in a progressive demonstration of systems and capabilities.

James Dean: Scenario C would use the moon as a test bed for Mars. Crawley called it "particularly intersting," however, it shares the same delay problems as going straight to Mars since you have to build all the systems. But he said it shuold continue to be considered as an option in the coming weeks.

James Dean: The option labeled Scenario D would go directly to Mars, skipping the moon. Advantage: it goes where we want to explore. Disadvantage: not possible until well into or end of the 20s.

Todd Halvorson: A second scenario would be to send shorter sorties to the moon as opposed to establishing permanent bases. A number of sites could be visited and capabilities to stay would increase as the program developed. Habitats and rovers ultimately would be sent to use the lunar surface as a testbed for Martian exploration.

Todd Halvorson: One scenario the committee looked at was to focus on a lunar base but develop a less capable spacecraft that would not have global access to the lunar surface and would not be able to return to Earth anytime. This scenario would not save money and was dropped.

Todd Halvorson: Dr. Crawley now is going to discuss five different destination scenarios that the subcommittee is examining. The first is the "program of record" -- Project Constellation. The 2010 budget would shift the return to the moon from 2020 to 2024 or even later; Crawley said. So the two choices are to slip the human lunar return or look at changes in the current architecture. One possibility would be to adjust the content of the current envisioned program and skip government access to the International Space Station and focus on developing a heavy-lift vehicle and a dual-launch strategy.

Todd Halvorson: Edward Crawley now will begin to outline where the nation might explore beyond Earth orbit. Destinations in our neighborhood include the moon, asteroids and near-Earth objects, Mars, Venus and the Lagrange points -- locations at the edge of the influence of Earth as a planetary body.

Todd Halvorson: The full committee now is asking questions of the group looking into missions beyond Earth orbit. Retired Air Force General Lester Lyles said the group has not yet touched on how space exploration might be applied to larger public interests such as climate change and health care.

Todd Halvorson: The subcommittee has come up with some interesting findings. Among them: Human missions to Mars cannot now be flown given what we know about galactic cosmic radiation effects on humans -- most notably raising the chances of cancer significantly -- and the limitations NASA places on how much radiation astronauts can be exposed to during a career.

Todd Halvorson: Christopher Chyba is briefing the panel on the science that could be done at various destinations in the solar system. He said the subcommittee is looking at science that could be done on moon missions, missions to other planets and missions to near-Earth orbit objects such as asteroids. Science that could be done on Mars and at the International Space Station was considered also.

John Kelly: Wanda Austin's wants to balance crew safety against not being too risk adverse. She's making a point about making sure astronauts are reasonably safe but that we take some risks to achieve big goals.

Todd Halvorson: Ed Crawley laid out the history of U.S. space policy dating back to the dawn of the Space Age and the Eisenhower Administration. A fiscal conservative, Eisenhower put together a policy aimed at exploring beyond Earth orbit in a pay-as-you-go manner. A 1969 roadmap envisioned that the nation would by now have 100 people in low Earth orbit, 42 people on the moon and 72 people on Mars and its moons. President Nixon "flipped the switch" and redefined space policy into one aimed at exploiting low Earth orbit. The second President Bush returned national space policy to one that mirrored the original policy put forth by the Eisenhower Administration. Crawley noted that no human being has been beyond Earth orbit in almost 40 years. No human has been further than 386 miles from the surface of Earth -- a distance equal to that between Washington, D.C. and Boston. "It's time to change that," he said.

James Dean: Wanda Austin, president and CEO of The Aerospace Corp., has picked up the discussion from Crawley. She's explaining the drivers for the subcommittee's evaluation of where humans should explore: benefits to stakeholders, budget and risk.

Todd Halvorson: The Augustine panel's subcommittee that is examining options for missions beyond Earth orbit will be testifying in the coming hour. Ed Crawley of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will be outlining some "destination-based" scenarios that the nation might pursue.

Todd Halvorson: The peak employment at KSC during the Apollo program was 25,000 people, Cabana said. That dropped to 8,500 during the six-year gap between the end of the Apollo program and the first shuttle mission in 1981. The current employment level is about 14,000 people, 2,100 of which are NASA employees. The NASA contractor work force at KSC is expected to drop by 700 in 2010 and 3,900 in 2011 and then 500 people will be added in 2012 and 2013, Cabana said. Cuts to the lunar program, however, could make the draw-down worse, he said.

Todd Halvorson: The biggest challenges at Kennedy Space Center are to safely fly out the shuttle program, maintain infrastructure and retain critical skills within the work force, said KSC Director Robert Cabana. The KSC work force is well aware of the impact that another shuttle accident would have on the U.S. human space flight program and is striving to make certain the remaining flights are safe.

Todd Halvorson: An investment of $35 million has been made to modify the KSC Operations and Checkout Building for Orion spacecraft final assembly and integration work, Cabana said, and the Space Station Processing Facility is under consideration for the final assembly and integration of the Altair Lunar Lander.

Todd Halvorson: KSC Director Robert Cabana is telling the panel about the modifications that are being made to the infrastructure at the space center to prepare for Ares I launches, which are targeted to start in March 2015. He says if Ares I is canceled, there will be a cost and schedule hit to prepare the launch pads, firing rooms and other buildings for whatever other vehicle is chosen.

Todd Halvorson: Current KSC Director Robert Cabana is telling the panel that the shuttle program is coming to an end and the transition to the next-generation of U.S. human space flight will be difficult. Now he will outline the core capabilities of the work force at KSC, the premier launch complex for sending astronauts and payloads into space.

John Kelly: The meeting is being broadcast on NASA alternate TV feed. here is the link:

Todd Halvorson: Among this in the crowd here today are former KSC Director Forrest McCartney, NASA astronauts Chris Ferguson and Don Pettit, Project Constellation Manager Jeff Hanley, Ares Program Manager Steve Cook, and Ralph Roe, the executive director of the NASA Engineering and Safety Center.

Todd Halvorson: The U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee is about to begin its public hearing in Cocoa Beach Chairman Norman Augustiine will open and the first speaker will be Kennedy Space Center Director Robert Cabana, a former shuttle pilot and mission commander.

John Kelly: The committee meeting here in Cocoa Beach opens at 8 a.m. First witness: KSC Director Bob Cabana.

IMAGE NOTES: The panel from a distance (top), KSC Director Bob Cabana waiting for his opportunity to testify (middle, right), and Cabana in a private meeting with a surprise visitor, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, in a small room near the conference hall (bottom). Photos by Michael R. Brown, FLORIDA TODAY.


Anonymous said...

Mel Martinez must be a buddy George Bush and pushing to keep GWB legacy... Im glad he is not running for re-election. Its times to put the CHIMP legacy behind US and move forward. Keeping the Space Shuttle flying only makes common sence. After American spent $100 billion dollars on the space station, the Space Shuttle is the only was to get the most out of our $$$... And that is just common sense. Something our Congress is lacking these days!!!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for doing this, guys; I thought I took good notes, but you had a couple of things I missed. Appreciate it.