Monday, October 26, 2009

How President Obama can keep his space promises

The presidential panel studying NASA's future covered a lot of ground, with decades of implications for the nation's space program and for our community. They did not recommend a plan for space.

Instead, they gave President Barack Obama the exhaustive analysis he needed to make a long list of important decisions.

The panel of veteran astronauts, scientists and aerospace executives did their job, and now it's time for the president to start making the hard decisions. The 150-plus page report delivered Thursday to the White House includes a complex matrix of options, some overlapping and often contradictory.

The choices are not clear-cut. Every choice affects another. It's complicated. But there is a good space plan in there, if the president picks and chooses cafeteria-style from all the options spelled out in the report.

What's more: There's a plan there that would help him keep his campaign promises to create a viable space program and protect thousands of space jobs throughout the United States, including here on the Space Coast.

The plan is simple and backed up by the work of his blue-ribbon committee.

Here's the short version:

1. The president should keep his promise to increase U.S. investment in science and technology by boosting NASA's budget.

Obama and his advisers have been talking more and more lately about increasing the nation's investment in science and technology, including at a recent event attended by NASA leaders.

The panel says the increase necessary to build a space program "worthy of a great nation" is about $3 billion a year more than the U.S. spends now. Hundreds of times more money was spent in the last year to bail out devastating failures in the housing, finance, automotive and other industries. No doubt, there's more to come.

This is not a bailout, but rather an investment that seems minuscule by comparison.

2. The president should keep his promise to prevent big space layoffs by flying the shuttles to 2015 and space station to 2020.

He stood in Titusville last year before a wildly excited crowd of space workers and promised to save space jobs. He promised to eliminate or shorten the gap between the shuttle and its replacement. He was not subtle about it. (The video is on our Web site as well as the local advocacy site

NASA's original plan to transition a large number of shuttle workers into new work on the moon-Mars program has failed. In Florida, the projects involved work on heavy-lift rockets and lunar gear that is now so far delayed that jobs might not materialize for a decade.

A smoother transition is needed. The nation needs to have a continuous flow of experts who know how to fly people in space. We need them teaching younger apprentices how to fly people in space.

That's how we have maintained our leadership in space flight worldwide, maintaining those skills continuously since the 1960s. We can't risk having to rebuild that capability from scratch after the longest gap in U.S. flights ever.

One way to do that: Keep flying the shuttles twice a year, and keep flying the space station. The extensions are not separate issues. Extending the station's life in any meaningful and safe way requires regular visits by the space shuttles as long as possible. The station will not last a decade without visiting shuttles.

The $100 billion station shouldn't be tossed in the ocean a few years after finishing it. The outpost's science potential maximized, including using it as a testbed for long-term flights into deeper space. Too much is invested in money and international political promises to bail out on the international partners.

3. The president should keep his promise to push commercial space flight by privatizing crew delivery to Earth orbit by 2015.

NASA can't afford to spend $6 billion on its own rocket to take people to low-Earth orbit, where there won't be a destination by the time the rocket is ready.

Private companies are making progress toward crew taxis, some building on seed money provided by NASA for cargo services to the station.

Instead of developing the means to launch to low-Earth orbit, the committee has given the president the option to fly the shuttles to 2015 and provide a much more substantial incentive for companies to field a simple crew taxi by 2016.

The private launch operations likely would happen here and create or save thousands of space jobs.

4. The president should keep his promise to make NASA inspire again by focusing the agency on work critical to overcoming the obstacles to flying deeper in space. NASA needs a heavy-lift rocket and the Orion spaceship, the two critical pieces needed for real exploration beyond Earth's orbit. That's the place to invest NASA's time and energy.

Certainly, there are better reasons for each of these decisions than keeping campaign trail promises.

The committee put the decision squarely on President Obama's shoulders. Their choice of words in one critical place was not accidental. They raised the question of whether Obama would choose to end the kind of ambitious space program that his hero, President John F. Kennedy, started.

NASA, they said, is "at a tipping point where either additional funds must be provided or the exploration program first instituted by President Kennedy must be abandoned at least for the time being."

Note: You can see some earlier comments on the story at a previous link here.


Anonymous said...

3XLCO2 wrote:

Shuttle flights can not be extended, the last External Tank is getting foamed right now and the Michoud factory has been gutted of all the vital tools to build the things. If you mean we should just s-t-r-e-t-c-h out the remaining flights until something else is ready, why not just hand the workers a check so we can save money on NASA facilities? White collar welfare isn't the answer, never has been.

Anonymous said...

bigjohn1 wrote:

"He stood in Titusville last year before a wildly excited crowd of space workers and promised to save space jobs. He promised to eliminate or shorten the gap between the shuttle and its replacement. He was not subtle about it.".........and then the sheeple voted for him - but now the things he spoke of must fall by the wayside since those things do not further the dis-mantling of the Constitution of the United States nor do they further the institution of a criminal socialist regime headed by a throughly corrupt and ineligible "president" who has shown himself more qualified to be a inmate in a penal institution than to lead our great Nation.
Now let the children lead in a song of praise to the great one.

John Kelly said...

The assessment of the condition of the external-tank facility in Michoud is overstated. Yes, this is not easy, nor cheap.

It's quite maddening actually that the government will have to undo some of this transition work so tanks can be made.

I think the answer is a combination of stretching out and adding flights. There are six left and a tank for a seventh. If they started flying twice a year now, there are enough tanks to fly into 2013.

The station is essentially completed, with the remaining flights not critical to the start of conducting a more robust science program. Slowing down the manifested flights now would allow for some budget-trimming and perhaps retirement of one orbiter.

You're right. Noone said this was the optimal decision. To some degree, this is mopping up a big mess.

CFL71 said...

to 3XLCO2

"White collar welfare"?? Where do you get that? Do you have ANY idea of the work that takes place at KSC? What do YOU do for a living? You make ignorant assumptions.

Anonymous said...

Right on Bigjohn1

Anonymous said...

We learn just as much by repairing and improving the shuttle and space station as we do by building and operating them. The space station should NEVER be abandoned. It should just grow and evolve until nothing of the original station remains or it becomes our first space museum. The shuttles are a different case, but it certainly seems short sighted to stop flying them completely when we've spent billions already. Perhaps there's even a chance to improve the external tank via improved construction techniques, even if a small loss in payload capacity is a result.

loutefree said...

Out source NASA just like cars an everything else its time these welfare recipients of gov't tax dollars learn that socialist subsidized space workers are limited by the economic health of Americans as one nation. Not just the 1% of the wealthy who got our Tax surplus. No trip to MARS, No trip to the Moon. China or Russia will carry a flag for us and still CEOs of our space industries wealthy. Bush bankruptcy Bush bankrupted America, Bush gave away the surplus ....Idiots.

Anonymous said...

I'm curious why you believe throwing $$$ at commercial firms who right now have nothing but "paper" rockets (except, perhaps, Falcon 9)will yield a human-rated LEO launch vehicle more quickly than Ares I, which uses uprated technology from vehicles that have ALREADT launched humans into space. I'm just not buying it....

loutefree said...

Republicans are the blame for NASA failing to have funds and for America being bankrupt. Bush spent all our money on nation building and smoking drugs so bad that only he believed Mars was an option. Obama please close it all down and out source rocket launches to communist nations China an Russia. Or trade launches with India, like Bush when he gave our nukes to them for mangos. Only republicans can support Lunatic deals like that. We're broke fellows and wasting millions like tomorrows blowing up a rocket day for 400 million is moon lunatic thinking.

John Kelly said...

Well, there's really no difference between "throwing money" at commercial firms under this model and "throwing money" at commercial firms who hold Ares I contracts, is there? One might argue that the main difference is "a lot less money."

That said, I also fully expect that some Ares I derivative will re-emerge in that competition as a commercial launch provider, under a partnership that might look something like United Launch Alliance or United Space Alliance (with ATK as a new partner in the venture). I'd have to think that through some more, but the point being, I think Ares I might live to fight again, just not under the "big government contract" model of doing business. Rather, if it's the best rocket for the job, then it ought to be a shoe-in winner in any open commercial competition, right?

CLR4theApproach said...

As to the Michoud facility.. the new contractor there, Jacobs engineering has already sent NASA a reply letter that they could rehire those folks and restart tank production in a matter of 6 months!.. all the tooling and materials are still there.. Wait another year and it's a whole different story..

I firmly believe that there is the knowledge in the commercial world to develope COTS, however, I have serious concerns that any company would risk their entire company worth on such an expensive undertaking.. it's not cost associated with the concept vehicle, its the cost of all the R&D, modifications, design changes that come with flying people to space...

I believe the Augustine option 4b to be the best overall possibility to accomplish and address all the concerns for certainly the next 10 years... it maintains the bulk of the skills employed, it uses the existing facilities to the maximum and it produces a very capable HLV... that will take us where every we decide to go.. it will also support building a space refueling station as well as the ISS in the out years..

In the end, we need legislation that provides LONG term funding to these programs beyond the limits of political elections.. the spike in fundings has got to be leveled so long term programs can stay the course and accomplish the missions..

Graham said...

Well if he does abandon it,he'll be remembered for it for the rest of his life.The man who blew it.! Blew goddards vision and kennedys bold and world inspiring words out of the damn water.

If you stop even for a short time in space you have effectively surrendered.

There are some missions that only a government backed NASA can do, and thats long duration moon flights.Commercial companies go bust you know (look at your banks ).!

Anonymous said...

"Bush spent all our money on .. smoking drugs?" That was taxpayer dollars, right? Great proofreading, FT.

Anonymous said...

We've just launched four shuttles in five months, with 7 people and up to 20 tons of cargo on each. With Constellation, we will have a five year gap, then launch two capsules a year with four people and a few hundred pounds of cargo on each. Lunar flights are simply not affordable with this old technology, and to LEO it costs as much as the Shuttle and accomplishes far less. The decision to terminate Shuttle was simply wrong.

Anonymous said...

I like the idea of extending the shuttle. How about building another Hubble telescope. Take the new Hubble up and bring the old one back. Would love to see the original Hubble in a museum.

Graham said...

The shuttle is 30 year old tech you now,it's old too.! And you can't launch missions out to the moon with it.Which is why it's being retired. Mind don't get me wrong shuttle has been brilliant i've loved it.

Ares is only based on the principles of the apollo tech,it's capsule as i understand it could take 6 crew.And then there's the ares V heavy lift rocket to take vastly more cargo 80 tonnes i think, or a lander into orbit. In design they've taken whats been learnt over time and applied it. With modern electronics and computing power,i think it's a great set of hardware on paper.

Now let em go about building it please mr obama.

Anonymous said...

NASA is a big waste of money on today's economy, they spend 500 million dollars on a 2 minute rocket test. They should just pile the money in front of a whole bunch of destitute and hungry people of the United States of America and burn it with a rocket booster. Such waste of money angres me. The government needs to focus on the problems in our country instead of trying to build an escape plan.

Anonymous said...

Meanwhile DOD just got a their annual "fix" the tune of...

$683.8 BILLION...

Yes folks that's for ONE YEAR!

Gee...they couldn't "trim" 1/2 of 1% and move it over to NASA?

Oh I forgot...that might make sense.

Anonymous said...

A lot of thoughtful comments here -- and a few truly dumb (politically motivated) ones.

In retrospect, the shuttle program was a side trip in space flight. We loved the ships and the people who built and flew them, but that period is now over. Don't keep going around and around that cul-de-sac to "save" jobs. Get back on the main highway to deep space exploration. Build Ares I and Ares V to take the entire world back to the Moon and beyond from right here at KSC.

Put serious money into NASA for the next few years to shorten the U.S. manned flight "gap." Give space workers who aren't old enough to take early retirement jobs of some kind -- any kind -- on Constellation. And most of all, don't privatize any of it. Do the exact opposite: expand the ISS coalition of spacefaring nations and have NASA coordinate/collaborate with all of them over the next few centuries in the international exploration of the solar system for all mankind...

Anonymous said...

Mr Obama is a rational man and a reasonable leader. So with Ares 1-X a success, it would be both rational and reasonable to continue with the Ares 1 rocket. I echo other comments about giving the additional funding to cut the gap between the last Shuttle and first Orion flights. ISS must also continue until 2020. But the ultimate destination must change - Mars instead of the Moon!

Anonymous said...

The sad fact is that Ares test was a complete waste of money. No real second stage, no fifth segment. Just a shuttle booster with some phony stuff riding on top. Why? For valuable data? They have launched hundreds of these boosters over the years, so what could they possibly learn from a two minute flight? A poor publicity stunt. Scrubs for days and they call it a success. You don't have to load any fuel, just launch the thing and they manage to drag that out for days. The whole "triboelectrification" spiel was hillarious! I call it NASA as usual. NASA continues to throw good money after bad. Time to dissolve the whole oraganization and start from the ground up.

Also, news flash to all the "let's extend the shuttle" crowd. Its over. They program has no purpose after the ISS is complete. The only remaining function is to ferry supplies and astronauts/cosmonauts. Do we need a multibillion dollar program for that? Not in this economy.

Stew said...

I think it's but fair that they have put to a halt all these space exploration programs because our priority now, unfortunately, cannot shift forward. We have more jobs to create, more roads to pave, more industries to build and space engineering and aircraft hardware just seems a far-fetched and overtly expensive concept at this turbulent economic times.

Suzy Thompson said...

I wouldn't say the rocket launches were complete failures because they gave way to new discoveries.