Monday, August 03, 2009

5 things you'll see in Augustine's report

President Barack Obama's human space flight committee is covering a lot of ground fast in a quest to deliver a report to the White House by the end of August.

In about 20 hours of meetings last week, they addressed the future of the space shuttles and International Space Station. They talked about whether to scrap the Ares rockets. They debated where to send astronauts.

The committee pored over reams of data. Members asked prickly questions. They made pronouncements that sounded like recommendations, though Chairman Norm Augustine said the report will not make recommendations. It will give the president several options.

You might be wondering, "Where are these folks headed?"

Clues abound. Here are five things I expect will show up in their final report.

1. The space station will not be tossed on the cosmic garbage pile. The committee will say it's unwise to give up the station just a couple years after spending up to $100 billion to build it.

Expect the committee to give the White House at least one option funding American operations on the ISS through 2020.

Members acknowledge the consequences. Doing so means any plans to fly humans deeper into space must be pushed way back because the station will eat up billions needed to develop a new space transportation system.

You can't do both without more money and it doesn't appear space will get the kind of multi-billion dollar bailout given to the financial, real estate and auto industries.

2. The committee will give Obama an option to cut the planned human space flight gap and that plan will somehow involve the shuttle. Sally Ride went over three options for extending the shuttle and station programs. The panel says flying the shuttles past 2010 is the only way to cut a long gap in U.S. human space launches.

Ride flew twice on the shuttle and investigated both the Challenger and Columbia accidents. She knows the inherent risks of the shuttle and the intensification of danger as the system ages. But she also knows the shuttle can be flown safely (both disasters were caused by the same thing: human error). More than anything, however, the shuttle is uniquely able to service this space station and increase its usefulness.

Like the station, pouring money into the shuttle -- even a few flights -- steals from exploration. But, panelists stress the president's budget is too small to fund exploration anyway. They are destined to offer the White House an option to extend the shuttle, while setting aside money for long-term investments in deep-space exploration technology.

Last year in Titusville, Obama promised to shorten the gap. He promised to make sure "all of those who work in the space industry in Florida do not lose their jobs when the space shuttle is retired." The promise was not ambiguous. The panel will give the president one option that allows him to keep his promise.

3. Yet another bid to replace the space shuttles appears doomed to cancellation.

This happens every time America tries to replace the shuttles. Past tries fell short technically, or blew the budget, or both. Ares is technically feasible. It's closer to budget than earlier candidates. Still, it's on political life support.

Panel members are frustrated because changing course means tossing aside time and money invested so far. They say there must be an overwhelming reason to kill it. Then, they keep citing a compelling reason: NASA's budget can't field the system on time. Not even close. Orion might not fly with people until 2017 at best. A moon landing? 2028.

Moreover, those dates are only possible if the shuttle is retired in 2010 and the station is forsaken in 2016. Sticking with Ares means a longer -- and growing -- space flight gap.

The panel is leaning toward a combination of launch systems, maybe including Ares V. The Ares I crew launcher is unlikely to be listed as an option that meets Obama's goals.

4. The moon may not be the target. Panelists are downplaying gains from landing humans on the moon again, unless as a quick "touch and go" test flight only for checking out landers and habitats for a Mars mission.

Some said the moon is not inspiring the public. More likely to be given as options: go straight for Mars on a stretched-out timeline or focus on deep-space flight technologies but pick a destination later.

5. The panel will make Obama decide. The committee will not be a blame board for scuttling the space program. If that happens, the president must do it himself.

Augustine says the panel will follow its charter, giving options not recommendations.

The White House told Augustine to come back with options that fit the current budget. That's a bad sign. You can't do exploration and reduce the space flight gap. The report will include some discouraging scenarios that fit the goal of cheaper.

Interestingly, Augustine sought and received the White House's blessing to list options that are over-budget. Watch for the report to argue that a space program worthy of a great country costs more. Expect at least one option funding both the current program and a bold exploration course. That would force the president to commit several billion dollars more a year to NASA.


Anonymous said...

"But she also knows the shuttle can be flown safely (both disasters were caused by the same thing: human error)."

Nearly all accidents are caused by human error. Humans can and WILL make mistakes. The shuttle requires almost perfect management to operate safely. Sooner or later they will make another error........

Anonymous said...

We could very well pay for it if Obma & Congress DROP the provision in the forthcoming Healthcare debacle which gives it FREE to illegal aliens.

Anonymous said...

Hopefully, we'll have some transparency from the Obama admin with regard to NASA in releasing ALL their videos of real alien spacecraft. NASA is a civilian agency that been run by the military. Let's hear about the bases on the dark side of the moon. Let's see the real Mars pics of the Cydonia region. The American people can handle the truth.

BadGovHawk said...

How apropos that President Barack Obama’s human spaceflight committee would be operating in a vacuum trying to plot the direction of NASA? Talking and brainstorming only among its select few insiders leaves the American people out in the cold.

Why not open this process up to include people of all walks of life and even all nations? Or, is NASA afraid that missions to the Moon and Mars will not be high on the list of priorities?

Today’s children have been bombarded with doomsday scenarios from rising Earth temperatures and ocean levels to Armageddon asteroid hits and vanishing resources. Ask these children and their parents what tomorrow’s astronauts should be exploring and they will probably reply with a list meaningful and achievable missions, such as:

1) Working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to solve once and for all the true source of global climate change.

2) Re-Map Earth’s continents to monitor rising ocean levels.

3) Map all near-Earth objects and send a mission to the asteroid Apophis that could strike our planet in 2029 or 2036. Land on it, set a nuclear charge and blow it to smithereens if necessary!

NASA is adrift because it is pinned to its Hollywood Right Stuff image of man conquering space, when it needs to focus on overcoming mankind’s Earthly challenges.

Jim Tippins said...

The Space Shuttle system is as safe as any yet-to-be-developed launch system. Keep America in space; maintain and fly the Orbiter!

Anonymous said...

Regarding the Space Shuttle accidents, I think it would be more accurate to say they were caused, not by human error but recklessness, and in the case of Challenger, insane recklessness.

The night before Challenger, the SRB o-ring joint seal engineers said, "We can't launch, it’s too cold, the o-ring may not seal causing a disaster, its too risky." Their concerns were overridden.

In Columbia, engineers knew there might have been a problem. They ordered spy satellite photos of Columbia, and that request was cancelled by someone who did not know what they were doing or who ordered the photos.

Challenger, and possibly Columbia, could have been avoided by rational human behavior.

LJ said...

The American people need inspiration; just like in the 70's and 80's with the space program.
Let's go to Mars and other deep space destinations. The space program doesn't just help "the space program", it helps all of humanity. Not only our spirits, but with technological advancements. Most of the current medical equipment was initiated and conceived by NASA and other space program engineers. Without that drive to push our limits, we will never truly succeed. We need the space program for a ton more reasons than just reaching NASA's goals.

Anonymous said...

Rushing something else through Congress??? What a surprise.

You wanted change... it's coming FAST!

Anonymous said...

I am surprised that not one Apollo conspiracy theory propogandists has said anything? But the environmentalists have keyed the mic.

The point is that all of these real or imagined environmental problems will be cured with a effervescent and bold space program that reaches beyond LEO.

You see BadgovHawk if we in the USA stopped everything the earth would still be polluted because we are not big bad anti earth country you imagine we are. One day in a 3rd world country will convince you of that.

We need to move out into the cosmos and see if we are as bright as we think we are or find out that we were given all the necessary information on how to run space ship earth a long, long time ago.

P. Darvio of Australia said...

NASA only needs another $3 billion a year to achieve all its current plans ie Moon by 2020, fly ISS beyond 2015, Fly Shuttle until Orion ready, what a small price to pay when you are spending that much a week in Iraq and Afganistan. The USA is becoming a weak nation with the wrong priorities. Lets hope China does go to the Moon and plant their flag beside the American ones to teach you all a lesson.

Anonymous said...

Any plan that prolongs the ISS is a good plan. Any plan that prolongs the shuttle is a bad plan.

Sally Ride's comments fly in the face of most intelligent shuttle observers. Progress and Soyuz can get the people and supplies to the ISS for a fraction of the cost, leaving us with the much needed money to then keep the ISS in orbit.

Would you rather spend $3B for three shuttle flights to get 3 or 4 Americans to the ISS (with freebies to our "allies") and their supplies or pay the Russians 10% of the cost and use the balance for new technolgies like solar power and the rest for the ISS?

Pretend for a moment this was your money.

Using money for more shuttle flights and then cancelling the ISS due to lack of funds is incredibly shortsighted. NASA and the Congress can't be that blind.


CharlieA said...

I can see giving the shuttle another two years or so. I'm comfortable with Ares 5.
Let's lose 'The Stick' - bad concept from the get-go. Cut the losses and move on.
Could someone get with the contrctors (LockMart-Boeing-NorGrumm, whoever), and see if any one has a round number (time/money) best-guesstimate for man-rating either Atlas 5 or Delta 4? Both these birds lauch IntSats, the standards for which are almost as tight as for Human Spaceflight.
I'm still hoping to see a human being on Mars in my lifetime.

Anonymous said...

"Progress and Soyuz can get the people and supplies to the ISS for a fraction of the cost, leaving us with the much needed money to then keep the ISS in orbit."

Yes, they can carry diapers and food but not the really big heavy parts the ISS might need to run for years to come. Why ditch servicing the ISS now when the Shuttle is a safe vehicle? The accidents that have happened were not just human errors, but bad calls from people who had a vested interest in the Shuttle flying on time.

Anonymous said...

The amount of funding NASA needs to achieve ALL of its goals is insignificant. The real issue we face in America is not "lack of funds" but rather the wasteful distribution of available funds.

Lets save the Middle East (in fact the world) by funding NASA-backed Earth Sciences for such issues as Gobal Warming, Near-Earth threats, hydroponics for crop starved regions, etc..

Lets continue our Involvement in the ISS and its invaluable science by using Pad 39A for alternating the Space Shuttle & Shuttle-Derived Vehicle missions.

Lets continue with our goal of reaching the Moon for continued science/medical research, a distant "space-center" for more cost effective deep-space exploration and a base for departing and returning travelers to rest & recharge.

Lets continue our efforts of exploring/landing on Mars and other planets as well as the mining of astroids. The potential for minerals and alloys to help us is limitless. Fixed telescope bases would allow us to have a free ride as we discovered the cosmos and some may contain water that could be used as additional reserves for planet-based centers.

There are enormous amounts of wasted funds that should be re-appropriated for the sake of the Earth and Mankind. Lets not forget the huge amount of financial resources available by commercializing space...The potential is huge and NASA/KSC should tap this deep-pocket avenue. Components painted with product logos, multiple open-air stadiums for launch viewing, resale of "space-flown" trickets the list is endless and potentially worth 100s of millions if not billions.

Timm Betts

Anonymous said...

Obama will invariably take the "save the jobs" approach, in spite of evidence that he should not.

He will therefore doom NASA to years of mediocrity, and dramatically increase the likelihood of another shuttle disaster. Even without human error, the shuttle is too delicate and complex to continue flying safely. Just imagine having to perform a space rescue in another Columbia-like incident, and then ditching an orbiter in the Pacific. That would be the end of the program, even if all the astronauts survive the experience. You don't lead by continuing to push a 30-year-old shuttle program another 5-10 years.

The moon should be skipped; it bores us. Dreams of mining it are science fiction.

A visit to Mars remains a $500 billion to $1 trillion exercise, and decades out, because the ISS has contributed nothing to help us get to Mars.

The ISS should be abandoned by the US, but it won't be. It will be occupied long past 2016, putting its residents at greater risk of catastrophe. And it remains without a de-orbit plan for its 300-ton hulk. Guess who will foot the bill for that multi-billion dollar project?

Dumping Ares I will be a major mistake. It employs trusted man-rated technology, and can get Americans into space faster and safer than any other rocket available.

Anonymous said...

All manned space flight has risk. It is an unforgiving environment and can have disastrous consequences. We take our lives in our own hands every time we get in our automobiles. The world is full of hazards. We loose far more service men and women in a week than the entire lifespan of the space program (17 over a 50 year period). The men and women of the astronaut core understand this risk. The Shuttle still remains the only vehicle with heavy lift capabilities to not only keep American Astronaut Access to the ISS and be able to take heavy components to the ISS. It is reckless to shut the ISS down in 2015 talk about throwing money away! Keep the ISS and keep the Shuttle. Fund current programs and a new program to reach beyond LEO. It isn't that it can't be done; it is that the President and Congress must commit and fund both programs. We have the knowledge and technology to do both. We bail out banks and auto industries and then limit monies to one of the best American Achievements.....superiority in space exploration and technology that has been spun off to benefit every American and private industry.

Anonymous said...

I think the ISS should continue beyond 2016, but the Shuttle should be retired on schedule. Undoubtedly the Shuttle was the only means to transport some of the station's largest components. But after the Tranquility Node and Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer are in place retire it gracefully. ISS crews can be rotated with Russia's Soyuz or China's Shenzhou and supplied by Progress, ATV, HTV and other cargoships being developed via the COTS programme. Beyond ISS? Mars is the only destination which beckons. A return to the Moon is pointless, unless the rationale is to colonise it for science and tourism. I also like Virgin Galactic as a new player in the space game. Let's hope it makes space accessible to the masses, rather than just government astronauts or bored millionaires

Tim said...

BadGovHawk & others:

The Augustine Committee held several meetings around the country so that anyone could attend and hear what was being presented. Each meeting (including the one here in FL on July 30) included some "open mic" time where *anyone* could sign up to speak their mind. The last public meeting will be this Wednesday, August 12 in DC.

You can read up on the public meetings, send in your comments and advice for review, ask questions and read answers all online at:

The committee has made heroic efforts to be open and transparent in their receipt of input and deliberations. I encourage you all to send in your thoughts and comments directly to the committee where they can do some good.

Graham said...

Anonymous at 6.25am I agree thats it right there in a nut shell well said .

Anonymous said...

Space is not a priority in this administration, they consider it "white collar welfare (as opposed to blue collar)". Obama said a while ago that he would pay for early childhood education with the Ares program.