Posts Tagged ‘Human spaceflight’

To the Moon? I think not, Alice….

February 24, 2010

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The NASA insignia.

Image via Wikipedia

(ed. note: these remarks are part of my testimony to the Senate Committee on Science and Transportation hearing “Challenges and Opportunities in the NASA FY 2011 Budget Proposal” on February 24, 2010)

Washington – we have a problem – there is an uproar across the land over NASA’s course change – and it says a lot about how the public is no longer in the loop with the space agency.

The headlines read “NASA cancels its Moon mission”. Now I would submit to you most people reading those stories had no idea were were heading back to the moon in the first place. And guess what? We really weren’t! The program – packaged as the “Vision for Space Exploration” – never got the promised funding – and its “vision” was clearly focused on the rear view mirror.

Constellation was touted as “Apollo on Steroids” but really it was a ninety-pound weakling – an uninspired attempt to bring back the magic. NASA was acting like the middle aged high school football hero who spends too much time in the local saloon telling tales of the glory days when he led his team to the state championships.

But the country has grown up and moved on – and it is time for NASA to get off the bar stool and do the same.

And that is exactly what I see in this budget. This is a grown up approach to space exploration – one that synchs the goals with national needs and budgetary realities. The space agency is getting a slap in the face. “Thanks, I needed that!” is what it should be saying. But that is not what we are hearing. Change is never easy.

But wait a minute – isn’t NASA supposed to be all about change? In fact, if it can’t embrace – no actually invent – change – we should close the whole place down.

But wait there is more – because as much as anything else – what we have here is a failure to communicate.



Congress Holds the Purse Strings

February 4, 2010
U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, of Florida.

Image via Wikipedia

The debate is by no means over – it just will shift venues.  Congress holds the purse strings – and the Constellation program has some very powerful supporters on both sides of the building and both sides of the aisle. One of them Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama – home of the Marshall Spaceflight Center.  He blasted the Obama Administration – saying: Congress “cannot and will not sit back and watch the reckless abandonment of sound principles, a proven track record, a steady path to success, and the destruction of our human space flight program.  Constellation is the only path forward that maintains America’s leadership in space.”

Well, that’s a taste of the debate to come. We also caught up with the only current member of Congress who has flown in space  – Senator Bill Nelson of Florida.

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Flexible Path 'Lite'

February 4, 2010
Leroy Chiao, U.S.

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There was something else that further cemented this deal – it was the work of the Review of U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans Committee,  headed by veteran aerospace executive Norm Augustine. The group delivered its list of options to the Obama Administration last year. For those of you keeping score at home – the White has chosen what is know as “Flexible Path” – but the commission members were hoping there would be $3 billion a year extra in the budget to get busy with some far flung plans.  What the Administration proposes is – to borrow a phrase – flexible path – “lite” – as in light on funding. I checked in with Augustine Committee member Leroy Chiao:

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Good Night Moon

January 30, 2010
Ares I-X Launch.  Source:  NASA/Scott Andrews, Cannon

Ares I-X Launch. Source: NASA/Scott Andrews, Cannon

No bucks – no buck Rogers – Our sources tell us NASA is no longer headed back to the moon – or anywhere else for that matter.
After spending upwards of 9 billion dollars to design the Ares 1 rocket – the Orion space capsule – the altair lunar lander -all collectively known as the Constellation Project –  NASA is being told by the Obama white house to scrap the whole program. The Vision for Space Exploration rolled out by George Bush 6 years ago this month – was never funded properly – and never gelled with the public.

NASA will get a little more money in its budget – which is more than most federal agencies can say – for Earth Science the International space station and for Commercial Orbital Transportation Services – or COTS – which envisions privately operated rocket rides to the space station. But nowhere near the dollars needed to chart a course for manned exploration beyond low earth orbit.
Grim news for those of us who care about human exploration of space – even worse if your livliehood depends on it. For more, I talked to John Karas – VP and General Manager of Human Space flight for Lockheed Martin – prime contractor for the Orion capsule:

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Musk Fires Back

January 24, 2010
DragonLab In Orbit.  Courtesy:  SpaceX

DragonLab In Orbit. Courtesy: SpaceX

Even though the Augustine Commission did not pick a vehicle or a destination  when it issued its report on the future of human Spaceflight to Obama –  it was clear from reading the tea leaves in their report that the Augies liked the idea of entrepreneurs building rockets for trips to low earth orbit.

But another group of gray beards that noses around NASA – the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel – this week lowered the boom on this notion – ASAP said anything other than the plan of record – specifically the the Ares 1 rocket – would be no faster, no cheaper – and less safe than, say the Falcon 9 rocket, being built by SpaceX. I caught up with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk this week via Skype – he was fuming over that report.

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"This Week In Space" – Part 1

December 21, 2009

twis300Welcome to the premier of “This Week In Space With Miles O’Brien,” a new show dedicated to keeping space lovers up to speed on the stories and issues making news off the planet.

This is Part 1 of 3, and features interviews with Augustine Commission member and former astronaut Leroy Chiao and SpaceX VP and former astronaut Ken Bowersox on the future of the U.S. manned spaceflight program.

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"This Week In Space" – Part 2

December 21, 2009

twis300Welcome to the premier of “This Week In Space With Miles O’Brien,” a new show dedicated to keeping space lovers up to speed on the stories and issues making news off the planet.

This is Part 2 of 3, and features news on the Mars Recon Orbiter and the Mars rover Spirit, an interview with former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin on the future of the U.S. manned spaceflight program, and updates on Endeavour and the ISS.

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'This Week In Space' – Part 3

December 21, 2009

twis300Welcome to the premier of “This Week In Space With Miles O’Brien,” a new show dedicated to keeping space lovers up to speed on the stories and issues making news off the planet.

This is Part 3of 3, and features news on the the WISE Spacecraft Launch, the rollout of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, new images from the recently refurbished Hubble Space Telescope, Butterflies in Space, and an interview with astronaut Nicole Stott – just back from the ISS.

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Wanted: Space Cadets with Open Minds

May 28, 2009


Ares V rocket at "booster sep". From NASA

Ares V rocket at "booster sep". From NASA

Norm Augustine, the man who is leading the White House scrubbing of NASA’s post-shuttle plans, has apparently selected a group of experts who have not made up their mind about the future of space exploration in this country.

They are going to have to be quick workers on deadline as well – as their report is due at the end of the summer.

I guess it would not be considered proper to have the NASA Administrator-elect Charlie Bolden sitting at the table for this (couldn’t call it independent anymore…), but since this group will be making some crucial decisions for him (like whether to build the Ares V heavy lift rocket), it would seem only fair that he be in the loop and be heard…

Norm Augustine

Norm Augustine

BETHESDA, Md. – Membership in the White House/NASA panel being set up to give the Obama administration a quick review of the U.S. human spaceflight program will be announced as early as May 27, and the group of 10 aerospace experts should clear all the regulatory wickets to begin work in about two weeks, according to Norman Augustine, the retired Lockheed Martin CEO who will chair the group.

Augustine, who took the job after discussing it with officials of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Office of Management and Budget, and key members of Congress, said in an interview May 26 that the panel will consist of experts who are “fully open-minded on the subjects.

via Spaceflight Panel Wants Open Minds | AVIATION WEEK.