Monthly Archives: June 2010

How we can explore Beyond Earth Orbit in the next 5-7 years

(Originally posted on April 19, 2010 on the Space Tweep Society blog.)

If you are interested in how we could and why we should explore Beyond Earth Orbit in cislunar space in the next 5-7 years, please read my white paper.

I encourage you to post comments with your thoughts.

*Comments have been ported over.

When will spaceflight be commonplace?

(Originally posted on March 15, 2010 on the Space Tweep Society Blog.)

Over the weekend I pondered this question, “When will spaceflight be commonplace?”  For this exercise, lets assume spaceflight = to/from a destination in Low Earth Orbit.

Once again I’d like to offer up some questions to the #SpaceTweeps to share their responses and I’ll come back and post my answers as well.

1) When will spaceflight be commonplace (like airline travel)?

2) What government “help” is required to achieve routine spaceflight?

3) What role (if any) does technology play in making spaceflight routine?

4) What will the minimum acceptable level of risk be?

5) At what point (if any) will spaceflight to Low Earth Orbit be profitable?

*Comments have been ported over.

Questions on NASA’s Future

(Originally posted on March 1, 2010 on the Space Tweep Society Blog.)

Earlier this month I shared with you my thoughts on NASA’s new vision and how the new vision could fail. And the weekend before the budget was unveiled I wrote about what I thought NASA should pursue in its future.

There has been no shortage of people sharing their thoughts on the FY2011 budget and the revamping of NASA and that is exactly how it should be.  People should be heard.  To date, the blog post in my opinion that sums things up the best is Changing Horses in Mid Stream.  If you haven’t read this one yet, it’s worth the time.

However, have you noticed that there isn’t a consensus in what is being said?  Which way should NASA go?  There are different camps.  Which one are you in?  Are you in the commercial camp?  The NASA only camp?  The Constellation camp?  The extend Shuttle camp?  There are too many to list.

Answer the following questions and include the why…then come back and see how I answered them.

1) Should Constellation be saved?

2) Should Shuttle be extended to close the gap?

3) Should NASA perform exploration missions while developing new R&D technogologies that will get us to Mars?

4) Is a heavy-lift vehicle required to leave LEO?

5) Why is inspiration important to the future of NASA?

*Comments have been ported over.

How could NASA’s New Vision Fail?

(Originally posted on February 11, 2010 on the Space Tweep Society blog)

Is this the new vision the solution?  Maybe.  The idea is to have NASA do the Research and Development (R&D) work to raise the TRLs from low to high so that they can be turned over the commercial industry.  While NASA has continued to do R&D all of these years, they have not been able to invest in everything they’d like to do because human spaceflight is expensive.  The concept is, make NASA an R&D institution and have the commercial industry pick up the flying into space portion.

My concern is this looks all grand on paper but at the end of the day where is the money and where is the implementation plan.  This plan is subject to the same perils that have doomed previous NASA programs and is at the whim of Congress and the next President(s).  What’s to keep Congress from cutting the funding (line by line remember) of specific NASA R&D departments?  What’s to keep the next President from coming in and saying this was a horrible plan and redirect the agency again?  Nothing.  Remember, there are no guarantees.

How could the new vision fail?

  • If Congress does not fully fund (for all the years to come) NASA to do the R&D work that is required to increase the TRL levels.
  • If the commercial industry does not invest significant amounts of their own money to develop human-rated launch vehicles and spacecraft.
  • If each NASA center does not secure funding to enable it to keep its contractor workforce
  • If NASA does not put together a procurement strategy such that the contracts can be in place to start spending the money right away.

Is this the right time? Is there ever truly a right time? While the budget is an increase in dollars over the FY2010 budget, it is less than what was submitted by NASA as a request for FY2011. Do you jeopardize thousands of jobs across the nation at a time when the nation is still recovering from a recession/depression?  Because, while the white house is saying this will create jobs, it will actually put NASA contractors out of work as their services are no longer required under the new vision.  The old contracts will be terminated and since this is a government agency, it will take time to start up new contracts.  How long will companies need to “hide” employees (cover costs) before those companies lay off or go out of business?  Which of the companies that exist purely to service NASA will go out of business because their services are no longer needed?  Just because a service was needed at one time, does that mean it should always be required?

Let me share with you the possible worst-case impact this could have to Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, TX.  JSC has been the home to three major programs, Shuttle, Station, and Constellation which includes their program offices, crew and flight controller training, and mission operations (mission control).  This is by no means all that takes place at JSC, but it is its major purpose for existing.  Since 2003, the plan has been to phase out the Shuttle program in 2010 and that is not changing.  So JSC has been planning the end of an era and working on transitioning some workers to other opportunities.  Lay-offs are in progress and will continue.  NASA Administrator, Bolden mentioned last week that crew training and mission control for the new spaceflight companies will not be done by NASA.  Astronauts don’t even have to be employed by NASA.  This is all still to be figured out as the new vision unfolds.  What we do know is that JSC just took a zinger under the new vision.  Shuttle retirement was already planned, but Constellation died unexpectedly and along with it the core competencies that JSC offers which is crew training and mission operations.  So, what will JSC do under this new vision?  What skill base can they maintain?  You are going to see the space centers battle it out for funding over this next year to keep their centers and the communities that surround them alive.

The Clear Lake area surrounding the Johnson Space Center exists because of NASA JSC.  If JSC is unable to think outside of the box and embrace this new vision then there will be a ripple down effect throughout the area affecting everyone.

So what does this mean to you?  It means everyone needs to do their part to make sure that the new vision is a success, regardless of your relationship to space exploration.  Do what it takes because failure only hurts our nation and our children’s future.

*Comments have been ported over.

NASA’s New Vision & Funding Promises?

(Originally posted on February 4, 2010 on the Space Tweep Society Blog.)
Here is what I see happening assuming Congress does not fight the President’s vision.  NASA will start implementing this change as soon as Congress allows the FY2010 funds to be redirected.  In December, Congress slipped into their appropriations bill that Congress had to approve the cancellation of the Constellation program.  Congress will fund FY2011 and maybe even FY2012 as Obama requests.  But after that they will begin to decrease funding just like they have for every NASA program ever conducted and/or canceled. Why do you always hear that a Government program is behind schedule and over budget?  There is a simple answer for that.  Because Congress only approves and releases funds on a yearly basis and they typically cut funds from a program as the years go by.  It happened to Apollo (change in direction), Shuttle, ISS (how many times did Congress try to kill it), X-33/X-34, Orbital Space Plane, shall I go on?
Words from the OMB Budget Fact Sheet states the following: “NASA’s Constellation program – based largely on existing technologies – was based on a vision of returning astronauts back to the Moon by 2020. However, the program was over budget, behind schedule, and lacking in innovation due to a failure to invest in critical new technologies.”  To anyone outside the space agency these sound like serious concerns and wow that program should be canceled.  But, let’s look at the reality of the situation.  The Constellation Program was built to former NASA Administrator’s Mike Griffin’s desires.  Was it optimal.  No.  Was it going to work.  Yes.  Did Constellation get funded per the original baseline schedule and funding that was negotiated.  No.  So what happens when Congress doesn’t fund a program?  Guess what, it gets behind schedule and over budget.  Gee, imagine that. Constellation was based on existing technologies because the last time this country tried to build a space craft built based on low Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs) the problems were so great and would take much more money to resolve that the X-33/X-34 programs were canceled.

NASA’s real problem is that its funding is done on an annual basis and is subject to the whims of congress.  This is how our government agencies work.  Wouldn’t it be amazing if NASA was given a long-term vision 10, 20, 50 years and funding was baselined and guaranteed for five years?  Imagine the programs that could be executed within budget and perhaps even saving some money.  Imagine the R&D that could be invested in.

*Comments have been ported over.

A Summary of NASA’s New Vision

(Originally posted on February 4, 2010 on the Space Tweep Society Blog.)

There were so many rumors and stories last week in the news about what was to occur on Feb 1st when the Office of Management & Budget (OMB) released the President’s Recommended budget for NASA for the 2011 Fiscal Year. I wrote my thoughts on course correcting our dreams to try and sum up where we were the weekend before the announcement and where I thought we needed to head.

For those of you who have been living under a rock this past week, Obama is recommending a major revectoring of NASA and the way manned spaceflight is conducted in our country. Here are some documents to peruse if you haven’t seen them:

The major changes are as follows:

  • Cancellation of the Constellation program; and $600 million in FY 2011 to ensure the safe retirement of the Space Shuttle upon completion of the current manifest. (For those of you who don’t know what Constellation is, watch this video for the pictures.)
  • Top line increase of $6.0 billion over 5-years (FY 2011-15) compared to the FY 2010 Budget, for a total of $100 billion over five years. (The $6B is allocated to commercial spaceflight development.)

Significant and sustained investments in:

  • Transformative technology development and flagship technology demonstrations to pursue new approaches to space exploration;
  • Robotic precursor missions to multiple destinations in the solar system;
  • Research and development on heavy-lift and propulsion technologies;
  • U.S. commercial spaceflight capabilities;
  • Future launch capabilities, including work on modernizing Kennedy Space Center after the retirement of the Shuttle;
  • Extension and increased utilization of the International Space Station;
  • Cross-cutting technology development aimed at improving NASA, other government, and commercial space capabilities;
  • Accelerating the next wave of Climate change research and observations spacecraft;
  • NextGen and green aviation;
  • Education, including focus on STEM.

A few initial thoughts:

So the question is, what does this mean?  It means that the President is overhauling NASA with a focus on research and development similar to what NACA was and attempt to develop a commercial market for spaceflight.  It gives the impression that Obama knows what he is doing with regards to NASA.  But, in reality – there are no executable plans.  They are all words on paper.  There are no guarantees that this will all happen per his vision.  Why?  Because Congress controls the flow of money to the governmental agencies, not the President.

Personally, I was disappointed in Obama’s rollout of his new vision for NASA.  First of all, the plan does not seem to have been communicated to the top leaders at NASA and each of the center directors.  Therefore they did not have time to put their thoughts together and a path forward to communicate the new vision with the NASA workforce of civil servants and contractors at each of the NASA centers.  In my opinion you do not cancel a multi-billion dollar program and redirect assests within an Agency without first communicating that to your leaders.   Secondly, the announcement was made on the 6th anniversary of the Columbia accident and on the surface (due to lack of details and plans for implementation) “seemed” to be an inappropriate time even though budgets nominally get rolled out on Feb 1st every year.

On a positive note, I’m very excited to see that the FY2011 budget extends the International Space Station (ISS) until at least 2020 and substantially increases the Human Research Program to work at solving questions like how to keep the human body safe from radiation and bone deterioration during long duration spaceflight.  We truly can’t go to Mars without having answers for these questions.  This year NASA and it’s International Partners will complete building the ISS – the proposed additional funding allows science and utilization of this unique capability in low earth orbit for the next decade.

*Comments have been ported over.

Mourning Constellation and the Dreams that went with it

(Originally posted on February 2, 2010 on the Space Tweep Society Blog.)

This blog post and associated comments has one purpose only and that is to mourn the loss of the Constellation Program and the dreams we had for returning to the moon.  The program (outside of budget realities) gave us a chance once not only to dream but to work on leaving LEO and heading to another body in our solar system with the stated of goal of learning to live off-planet including learning how to protect the human body in space for long durations.

Please share with us as we take this time to mourn the loss of a program and our associated dreams.  Examples include:

1) Share your personal dreams of what Constellation and Exploration meant to you.

2) Share how the cancellation personally affects you.

I stated the other day that sometimes dreams need course corrections.  In order to correct we need to revector those dreams.  First step is to mourn the current dreams and their associated time table.

I ask that you not bash Constellation or the President’s FY2011 budget in your comments.  This is purely a place to say good-bye.  To put our dreams down on paper.  To take a moment of silence.  Future blog posts will cover everything else there is to cover.

*Comments have been ported over.