Tag Archives: Politics

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?

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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?

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.

Thoughts on National Space Policy

I’ve been wondering about what to say regarding the new National Space Policy that was unveiled on June 28, 2010, however I don’t think there is anything for me to add that hasn’t already been said.

For me, The Space Foundation provided a great summary of stating the pros and cons of the National Space Policy and its possible effects on Human Spaceflight.

Additional National Space Policy Sources:  White House Fact Sheet, NASA Statement

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.