Category Archives: FY2011 Budget

Beware of passion

Is there such a thing as having too much passion?  For wanting to change the world, one space vehicle at a time?

We are engineers.  We work at NASA or for a NASA contractor.  The programs we slave away on are given unrealistic budgets and schedules and we are the ones who think outside of the box to try and make all of the jigsaw pieces fit together.  Technically, we can do anything we set our minds too.  All of us have that mindset.  Anything is possible.

What does stop us in our tracks?  Or at least slow us down to a slow crawl? Politics.

In my first blog post for this site back in January 2010, I wrote that sometimes dreams need course corrections and that was written about NASA changing directions from the Constellation Program to some unknown future.  Here we are 21 months later and not a whole lot further down the road.  NASA is saying 2017 instead of 2015 for first flight of the Commercial Crew vehicle to the International Space Station (based on funding forecasts), the heavy-life launch vehicle has only recently come to life as a reincarnation of Saturn V (at least in paint colors), and I’m trying my best to stay positive and believe in a future  in the Aerospace Industry.

But I keep coming back to my naive dreamer post from October 2010.   It’s now 13 months later and I’m still a naive dreamer and keep getting hurt.  Why do I keep letting the government and thus NASA dim the lights on my passion?  NASA will never get the funding to do what we as children were told was going to happen in our adult lives.  At least they won’t in our lifetimes.  So why are we still here?  Why are we holding on?  Is it for the paycheck?  Do we think we can really make a difference so our children or grandchildren can experience what we dreamed of?

Why am I here?  What good am I providing?  How am I making a difference in the world?  Do I have too much passion for this field and thus destined to be disappointed? These are questions I’m currently exploring and I simply don’t know how to answer them right now.  Another phase of the naive dreamer coming to an end.

 

It’s more than a Space Shuttle

I am amazed.  Simply amazed that the U.S. Government thinks politics can be played when retiring the space shuttles and determining where they should be displayed.

Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s spaceflight – the first time man left the planet. April 12th also represents the 30th anniversary of the first space shuttle flight, the first of 133 missions with only two remaining in all of history.  And this is the day our government and the NASA Administer decided to shun the Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX.

Known as the epicenter of human spaceflight since the early days of NASA, JSC is where the astronauts are trained for their shuttle missions.  It’s where each mission is planned years prior to flying, where the mission timeline is laid out to the last detail.  This is where people sacrifice time with their families to work night shifts during missions, adjusting every time a launch has slipped a day, a month, or 6 months. Houston is what makes it all possible.  It being the dream we all had at one point in our lives-to fly and do remarkable things in space.

For NASA to select NYC and for  three of the locations to be on the east coast to receive shuttles was a slap in the face to the thousands of employees at JSC who had dedicated their lives to the space program. Or so it feels.  I’m not saying there aren’t valid reasons for any of the four establishments to not have a shuttle, although I do have trouble understanding the historical significance NYC has played in the space shuttle program.

They say politics did not play a role. How can that be a true statement?  Ever since this administration came to office, JSC has seen their scope and purpose significantly reduced. A message has been sent to Houston from Washington D.C. and we know hear it loud and clear.  JSC has laid out the requirements for every manned vehicle since its inception and yet the commercial crew program office goes to KSC. A center that knows everything about launching vehicles safely but very little about designing a spacecraft + integrating that vehicle with the international space station.

(For a different perspective on the shuttle announcement see Wayne Hale’s Blog)

I fear for the future of human spaceflight in our country. I see bad choices continually being made and I have to come to terms that my dreams may not become a reality no matter how dedicated I am or how hard I work.  Last night many friends sent me a link to a shuttle tribute video made by KSC employees entitled “We all do what we can do.”   I cried through the whole thing. The shuttle program is ending and this country, supposedly the greatest country on Earth failed.  We failed to fund Constellation, we failed to select the appropriate design solution, and we (the people) failed to stand up and demand more from our government. Yes, we failed. Apparently failure is an option on Earth.

And guess what, we are still failing. Congress and the Administration are bickering like 5 year olds over the future of NASA and exploration of the cosmos.  Congress believes that anything is possible even when given small amounts of money to do technological breakthroughs.  NASA believes it can forge the future with the bureaucracy that comes with government.  Changes must be made.  Leaning out processes and procedures must occur.

Feel a vicious cycle?  I do. Will we ever leave low earth orbit? Not at this pace. Why is an evolvable heavy lift a bad idea? Because if you start with 70MT you’ll never see 130MT. It simply won’t get funded down the road. Look at the track record.

Do it. Do it big. Do it now. Else don’t complain later if we don’t leave Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Imagine what we could do if only the capability existed. The sooner the better. Let NASA build the launch vehicle and the crew exploration vehicle. But, want to test vehicles and structures on the moon? Maybe Industry will build them using their own requirements and processes.  And in a new partnership with NASA, they can be launched on the NASA heavy lift launch vehicle at no cost to industry. That is one way way how America can think outside the box.  There are a gazillion other ways.

Think big. Dream big. Do big.

Leave LEO.

Mom, I’m no longer a virgin

Over the past few days I’ve had to come to terms with a huge realization in my life.  It can be equated to

  • No longer a virgin
  • Crushed childhood dreams
  • Oh $hit! What do I do with my life now?

What am I saying all of this silly stuff about?  Why write such a title for this post?  It all goes back to Wayne Hale’s post the other day.  He is right you know.  I have been tossing words around my head for weeks now.  But, it wasn’t until he posted his thoughts that I admitted something to myself.  Something huge.

I am no longer a naive dreamer.

And this saddens me deeply.

Last week, Camilla SDO wrote this nice post about me.  As a baby, my dad would hold me in his arms while watching Star Trek.  I didn’t know this until just a few years ago but it explains so much.  I’ve always felt that space exploration was my calling, that it is something that I was meant to do.  It’s not just a passion that is excited through the unknown, engineering challenges, and scientific discoveries, but by the dream that we were really going to go out there.  To explore.  To stay.

On February 1st, 2010 and the weeks that followed I joked that I felt NASA had broken up with me.  It was partly true.

Last week when the House accepted the Senate’s version of the FY2011 Budget (Authorization) for NASA I knew it was game over.   Why?  I refer you back to Wayne Hale’s post.  It’s happened time and time again.  Plus, don’t forget the Administration wants a 5% budget cut across non-essential agencies of which NASA is included.  So the $19B that NASA may get is going to be 5% less yet they will be tasked with a tall order.

NASA is NASA and the men and women who make up that agency (civil servants and contractors) do their best to meet every tall order given to them by changing Congress’ and Administrations.

So in reality, it wasn’t NASA that broke up with me.  It was my government.  Or was it?  Hasn’t this always been my government?  Hasn’t this always been a reality?  Space Exploration is not done to explore, push our boundaries, to move mankind off or planet.  It’s politics.  Has been since Sputnik launched  in 1957 shocking and scaring a planet.  It’s war.  Has been since WWII and the V2 rocket.

*sigh*

I’ve always been the dreamer.  The one to say anything is possible if only you put your mind to it.  I was told I wasn’t going to college unless I found a way to pay for it.  I sat in front of my Congressman’s committee my senior year in high school and told him why he should send me to a Military Academy – in essence because of my passion for space exploration.  I got the nomination.  He then continued to vote against the continuation of the space station.  I felt like a double standard and left the Prep School at one of the Academies for many reasons.  One of them being I couldn’t be there because someone didn’t believe in what I believed in for our country.  Space exploration.

Where are we today?  We have a Congress that’s primary purpose is to save jobs in their districts.  An Administration that confuses me.  And we are not on a path to truly explore space.

I no longer think we can get *there* in my lifetime.  And for this I am sad.

So I mourn.  And then I write this post.

So, now that I am an adult it’s time to take matters into my own hands.  I wonder, is this what New Space did all those years ago?  Am I finally awakening?  Can it be done without the government holding our dreams back?

The Reality of NASA’s FY2011 Budget

I couldn’t have sad it better myself.  Wayne Hale simply states what is ahead for NASA.

The same old thing.

So, my question is – if the government isn’t going to change, how do WE make OUR future happen?

Positive Life Changes due to NASA’s FY2011 Budget Chaos

In past posts I have asked some questions and asked for people to share their thoughts on the topic.  I’d like to do that again with this blog post.

How has your life changed in a positive way since the announcement on Feb 1st of NASA’s FY2011 budget?

Here are some starting questions to ponder, feel free to go beyond this.

  • Are you more aware of how the US Budget process works?
  • Have you taken the opportunity to create a new future for yourself?
  • Met new people and friends through discussion of the various budget proposals?
  • Shared the benefits of space exploration and exploring with others?
  • Exploring the possibilities of Commercial Spaceflight?

I look forward to reading your responses and I’ll share mine in a few days.

**********************************************************************

Update: 9/23/10

The chaos of this past year has provided positive change to my life.   Change is good for questioning one’s purpose and trajectory and this past year offered ample opportunities to do just that.  The chaos has allowed me to create new opportunities at work that I otherwise would not have done because I’d still be going down the path I was heading (working Constellation).   While NASA was trying to chart out it’s future, I also spent time trying to figure out how I would fit into the new vision.  The future is unwritten, however I’m certainly enjoying the opportunities I helped create over the past 4 months.   Project Mongoose, an ISS participatory exploration project, was born out of submitting a Request for Information (RFI) to NASA back in June.  By the way Project Mongoose was named by Twitter followers after I asked for a code name for my super cool project I was working on.  Another project I’ve been added to recently is an amazing opportunity, and I look forward to seeing where it will lead.  But, the one I fought hardest for was to help out the business development team in capturing new business for my company.  I have long wanted to work in this area, using a mix of skills from my engineering experience and my MBA and starting October 1st I will get to do just that.   So, yes, this chaos has brought positive change to my life.  But, only because I sought it out.

Then there is the House Version of the NASA Bill

While the Senate attempted to compromise on a path forward for human spaceflight through their bill, the House decided to take a vastly different approach last week.

If you watched the open debate last week, while it was refreshing to see, it was also incredibly sad that the  issue of the day that garnered the most attention was on where the shuttles should be located post shuttle retirement rather than the direction this country should take when it comes to the future of human spaceflight.

A quick summary of the House version (with Amendments)

Adds

  • Government launch vehicle/capsule to deliver crew to ISS with initial operational goal of no later than December 31, 2015.  If a commercial vehicle is available and meets safety standards, then government system will be for
  • Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle operational by end of decade

Adds an additional Shuttle Flight in FY2011

Guts Commercial Crew yet adds Loan Guarantee Program

Appears to gut the Flagship Technology Demonstration Missions, yet funds Space Technology for lower TRL technologies.

What surprised me the most was the comment by Pete Olson (U.S. Representative that includes JSC), that help is on the way implying that he believes this bill will save JSC and NASA.  In my opinion it is a short-term solution, that while it employs people for the next few years it does not nothing to sustain human space exploration long term.

I’ve maintained through conversations and tweets that the path to success is a balanced portfolio where NASA (aka Congress and the President) invest in current exploration missions and investing in R&D for the future.  Companies do this every year.  They have a product line they sell, they invest in upgrading their product line, and they invest in R&D for future products.  This isn’t rocket science.

We shall see what happens when the House and Senate bills meet one another in conference.

Is the Senate NASA Bill Passed by the Commerce Committee Better than Obama’s New NASA?

On February 1st, 2010 NASA unveiled President Obama’s new vision for NASA that ultimately did not go over well with Congress (primarily because it was not vetted with them before hand), with America (due to the media’s hold on the wording that manned spaceflight was ending), and with many incumbent NASA workers (do I need to explain why?)  Who did the new vision go over well with?  It was a huge success with those who call themselves New Space, those who say they aren’t waiting for the government to go explore Low Earth Orbit (LEO), the moon, and beyond.  There are some really interesting companies in this arena including Masten Space Systems, SpaceX, Google Lunar XPrize, and many others.  Why did they like the new budget?  Because it invested in them and their ideas.  The new budget invested in Commercial Space to LEO being that of the International Space Station (ISS) and Research and Development (R&D) for the future.  I think a future and interesting blog post will surround the idea of these companies who are branching out to do it themselves yet go after the government contracts, with SpaceX being a prime example with public statements being made that over half of their funding has come from NASA for the COTS (cargo delivery to ISS) program.

Fast forward to July 15, 2010 when the Senate Committee for Commerce, Science, and Transportation unanimously passed their response to Obama on the FY2011-2014 NASA Budget.  The 99 page draft of the Senate’s budget was posted earlier in the week, but was marked up with quite a few amendments of which many were approved.  I personally have not seen the individual amendments and you have an online link to where they are stored, please share them.  A summary of the Senate’s budget was posted, but the full version has not been made available yet as far as I know.

Even though the Senate Bill still needs to pass another Committee and the full Senate and we have yet to hear much from the House side of Congress, I thought I would take the opportunity to comment on the Senate Bill because there is still time to craft and mold the future.

Regarding extending ISS to 2020 and adding an additional Shuttle flight, in my opinion these are both no-brainers and don’t require discussion.

What I will address is Commercial Crew, Heavy Lift & the Multi-Purpose Spacecraft, and Technology Development.  The major flaw in Obama’s proposal was that he sacrificed current exploration beyond LEO by delaying them until no earlier than 2025 for R&D and technology development.  Any successful company can share with you that their success is not just based on a current product or R&D.  They invest in both.  They are always investing in their future while executing their current product line.  NASA too needs to take a good solid look at how they can best perform R&D and technology development for the future and execute exploration missions in the here and now.  The Senate Bill is a step in the right direction, however the funding levels remain unrealistic in the current environment.  Perhaps a future blog post will transpire on how NASA can change internally to save money and meet the goals and objectives of the future.

Commercial Crew

Why do I like the wording of Sections 402 and 403 in the Senate Bill?  Because it continues the Commercial Crew Development Program (CCDev) through 2011, providing funding for companies to continue to develop their concepts for Commercial Crew and allows time for NASA to figure out how to run a Commercial Crew program from human rating requirements to procurement.  Consider it the year of transition, and it is a year that both NASA and the Commercial companies will need in order to be successful.

Heavy Lift & Multi-Purpose Spacecraft

I did not understand why under Obama’s proposal NASA would study Heavy Lift alternatives and perform additional studies delaying the decision for what architecture would be used until 2015 (and the next administration) therefore delaying a built vehicle until the early 2020’s.   So it’s actually a good thing that the Senate Bill provides for a Heavy Lift capability and to start working on it right away which means we can begin exploring in years rather than decades.  In Section 302 of the Senate Bill it calls out for an evolutionary design of the heavy lift vehicle.  The spacecraft, built upon the years of work NASA has done on the Orion vehicle to go to ISS and the moon will be evolved to add Mars, Mars’ Moons, and Asteroids.

Technology Development

While not funded at the original levels under Obama’s proposal, there is still funding for technology development and it remains to be seen by the time the final Senate bill gets passed for how much will be funded.   Technology, including Research & Development is a vital component for the future.  However not at the expense of current exploration missions.