Sometimes Dreams Need Course Corrections

(Originally posted on January 30, 2010 at the Space Tweep Society blog)

So much has been written this past week in newspapers, blogs, facebook, and twitter about the fate of NASA’s human spaceflight program. With every new American President the forward steps of our exploration into the Cosmos is up for renewal. That’s reality for NASA being what it is; a government agency.

The Orlando Sentinel is the newspaper that started everything this week with this initial article that Obama plans to cancel the Constellation Program and the mission to return to the moon. Throughout Wednesday and into the evening, those in the space industry who use twitter found themselves venting about the “change” and the unknown future. I was one of them. A second article stated that $6 Billion over 5 years is to be provided to NASA in order to develop commercial capability of reaching Low Earth Orbit and providing an astronaut transport service to the International Space Station.

I recommend the book, Who Moved my Cheese by Spencer Johnson because if you keep looking for where the cheese was you are going to be absolutely miserable. Those who adapt and are flexible with change will thrive. For six years we’ve been working towards a goal, to leave LEO, a dream come true for my generation. This dream is now threatened due to only knowing part of the story. Every article that’s been written over the past few months of Obama’s vision for American Human Spaceflight has been only a piece of the puzzle. Not one article tells the story and there’s a reason for that. The vision has yet to be unveiled. That comes Monday. A day we are all anxiously awaiting whether we work for NASA, a contractor, a private/commercial spaceflight company or are an NASA enthusiast, student, astronomer, physicist, #SpaceTweep.

I recommend these two blog posts as @dittmarml provides her thoughts in An Open Letter to the U.S. Human Spaceflight Community and @rikerjoe wrote End of NASA’s Human Spaceflight? Hardly. @BadAstronomer of Discover Magazine wrote Give Space a Chance which by the way is getting quite the response in comments. Take the time to check it out and provide your thoughts.

Reality is that Congress did not fund the Constellation Program to allow reaching the baselined milestones. Tasks were deferred to the right. Technical issues that arise in all new programs were resolved as money was available. The schedule slipped and slipped and slipped. Welcome to the government. Now we find ourselves in 2010 having digested The Review of the U.S. Space Flight Plans Committee’s final report which stated that in order for Constellation to be successful it would need an infusion of an extra $3 Billion a year each and every year for the next five years. Anyone whose been paying attention to the U.S. Economy including the bailouts for the banks and car companies knows this is just not going to happen. As most #SpaceTweeps know, NASA gets less than 0.6% of the federal budget, while most people think they get a quarter of the federal budget. @BadAstronomer provided a great post this past week about NASA’s percentage of the federal budget.

While we wait in anticipation for Monday’s announcement of Obama’s Spaceflight vision I can share with you my thoughts on what needs to occur. What is important is that the overall vision be sustainable, continue building on capabilities, uphold safety standards, and be fully funded.

I do hope for a flexible path type architecture that allows NASA to use a multitude of launch vehicles, capsules, and develop new technology and capabilities. But, what are the goals of flexible path? Where are we to go and what are we to do there? Remember, we are after sustainability, to maintain a human presence in space and build our capabilities to go further and further from our home planet. Well, that’s what I want. I don’t know what Obama wants.

Here’s what I think:

  • The future of human spaceflight is not a one nation venture. It’s an International Partnership.
  • The Moon and Mars should be part of our new Vision. I believe we have much to learn before we can even think of venturing to Mars; that learning takes place on the space station and on the moon. We still need to learn how to protect the human body from radiation on long duration missions and develop new capabilities in propulsion to reduce the mass due to chemical propulsion and minimize the time to travel to the destination so more time can be spent exploring at the destination.
  • We need to minimize the gap of having a launch capability in order not to lose the workforce expertise and knowledge as well as employ our future generation of rocket scientists.
  • It doesn’t matter who builds the rockets that take us to LEO because if NASA is going to pay for launch services of its astronauts they will demand safety standards be met. However, the vision must be realistic about the time it will take for those capabilities to become available. It won’t happen overnight.

Here is what I worry about. Obama will unveil his vision which may change the balance of jobs at various NASA centers thus starting (well, it already has started) a Congress backlash. Therefore Congress will battle (drag it on) for years to come keeping NASA’s budget to a minimum thus stretching out the time it takes to go beyond LEO.

I do not have experience going through the Presidential “NASA Change” at a Program Level. My first job was in 1998 and it was to work on the International Space Station. 6 months later we launched the first module, Zarya, or what I still call the FGB. The International Space Station went through numerous design changes over the past 20+ years. For me, I arrived at the right time to develop lesson plans to train astronauts and be part of the systems engineering and integration team that came up with the engineering solutions to the reality of congressional budgets.

I leave you with these two thoughts:

Sometimes dreams need course corrections.

What will you do with your passion and excitement of space exploration?

*Comments have been ported over.

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2 responses to “Sometimes Dreams Need Course Corrections

  1. I think this is the best post I read about what’s going to happen with NASA’s future.I’ve been thinking about it…About a few months after I came here in the U.S.,three years ago.I didn’t know what to do after high school.Then came along the U.S. Space Program,NASA.It gave me a goal that I want to work there and do AMAZING stuff this people do.Then my dreams came true…Last summer I got to work at NASA Ames for one day and it was the BEST this that ever happened to me.I got to meet AWESOME and AMAZING people.Now,I go to college because someday I want to work at NASA.:)

    I’ve seen so MANY people from ALL OVER THE WORLD who really wants to work at NASA.

    What will you do with your passion and excitement of space exploration?

    -What ever happens to NASA,it would still be the BEST governmental agency EVER.My passion and excitement of Space Exploration would still be the same.But maybe a little different.

    ❤ NASA ❤

    ChrisAstro

  2. Thank You for your post and the ending two thoughts. Many who watch us with any interest will see what each of us is made of. Do I allow my dreams to be swayed by reality? (Yes) – How can I make a difference, using what I know to light a spark and spread enthusiasm for space exploration in others. (There Is No Stopping Now)

    @markratterman