Tag Archives: Constellation

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.

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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.

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.

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.

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.