Daily Archives: January 26th, 2010

NASA and the End of Government Funded Spaceflight

Government funded spaceflight might be coming to an end. To any of you whose teeth were cut on the Gemini, Apollo missions and the subsequent Moon landings on 1969 and into the early 1970s, this is heart-breaking.

How could this be happening? How could we have come to this point in our history in which NASA’s human spaceflight program could be defunded to the point that the only way US astronauts can get to the Space Station (mostly paid for by US taxpayers) is by the Russians?

I don’t know if many of you folks realize this, but the Space Shuttle Program comes to an end this year after five more flights. Oh, you didn’t? Don’t be offended, most ordinary folks don’t know this (but my wife did, which surprised me).

There is (almost was now) a program to replace the shuttle called the Constellation Program. Two major components of the program were two rockets, Ares 1, which was supposed to launch astronauts into low Earth orbit (LEO) and Ares 5, a huge rocket capable of putting 188 metric tons of equipment, cargo, a lunar lander and an Earth Departure Stage (EDS) which meets up with the Orion astronaut capsule that was launched on the Ares 1 rocket. The purpose of this stuff was to carry and establish a base on the Moon, as a precursor to learn how to live on the planet Mars. This was the Vision of Space Exploration, as espoused by the second President Bush in 2004.

Well, the problem with this was that, you guessed it, no extra money was allocated to NASA to carry out this mandate.

And so here we are six years later all the VSE produced was a test rocket which was launched this past October called the Ares 1-X. All it was, was a four segment solid rocket booster with a ‘dummy’ stage on top of it and was unpowered. The cost of the project, $445 million. Yup, half a billion samolians. At this rate we’ll have a human-rated Ares 1 rocket by 2017 at the earliest. After the space station is slated to take it’s final bath in the Pacific.

Needless to say ‘what’s the point’ then?

Well, this is just the short version of the conundrum, there’s much more to it that could be explained by folks who know more than I do.

Now, as the President’s new 2011 Budget is going to be submitted in February, much is going to be cut and the rumor is that all discretionary spending is to be frozen, other than the military, veteran’s spending, Medicare and Social Security.

That means NASA isn’t going to get anymore money alloted to it:

To attack the $1.4 trillion deficit, the White House will propose limits on discretionary spending unrelated to the military, veterans, homeland security and international affairs, according to senior administration officials. Also untouched are big entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

The freeze would affect $447 billion in spending, or 17% of the total federal budget, and would likely be overtaken by growth in the untouched areas of discretionary spending. It’s designed to save $250 billion over the coming decade, compared with what would have been spent had this area been allowed to rise along with inflation.

The administration officials said the cap won’t be imposed across the board. Some areas would see cuts while others, including education and investments related to job creation, would realize increases.

Among the areas that may be potentially subject to cuts: the departments of Housing and Urban Development, Justice, Energy, Transportation, Agriculture, and Health and Human Services.

“We’re not here to tell you we’ve solved the deficit, but you have to take steps to put spending under control,” a senior administration official said.

The spending freeze, which is expected to be included in Wednesday’s State of the Union address and the president’s Feb. 1 budget proposal, is one of a series of small-scale initiatives the White House is unrolling as the president adjusts to a more hostile political terrain in his second year. On Monday, the president unveiled a set of proposals aimed at making child care, college and elder care more affordable.

“Given Washington Democrats’ unprecedented spending binge, this is like announcing you’re going on a diet after winning a pie-eating contest,” said Michael Steel, spokesman for House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R., Ohio). “Will the budget still double the debt over five years and triple it over 10? That’s the bottom line.”

That last line just kills me.

There’s one thing that could alleviate NASA’s pain somewhat and that’s a proposal to fund ‘commercial’ companies (which include Lockheed-Martin and Boeing BTW) to develop cargo and human rated carriers to the space station:

The White House has decided to begin funding private companies to carry NASA astronauts into space, but the proposal faces major political and budget hurdles, according to people familiar with the matter.

The controversial proposal, expected to be included in the Obama administration’s next budget, would open a new chapter in the U.S. space program. The goal is to set up a multiyear, multi-billion-dollar initiative allowing private firms, including some start-ups, to compete to build and operate spacecraft capable of ferrying U.S. astronauts into orbit—and eventually deeper into the solar system.

Congress is likely to challenge the concept’s safety and may balk at shifting dollars from existing National Aeronautics and Space Administration programs already hurting for funding to the new initiative. The White House’s ultimate commitment to the initiative is murky, according to these people, because the budget isn’t expected to outline a clear, long-term funding plan.

The White House’s NASA budget also envisions stepped-up support for climate-monitoring and environmental projects, along with enhanced international cooperation across both manned and unmanned programs.

Press officials for NASA and the White House have declined to comment. Industry and government officials have talked about the direction of the next NASA budget, but declined to be identified.

The idea of outsourcing a portion of NASA’s manned space program to the private sector gained momentum after recommendations from a presidential panel appointed last year. The panel, chaired by former Lockheed Martin Corp. Chairman Norman Augustine, argued that allowing companies to build and launch their own rockets and spacecraft to carry American astronauts into orbit would save money and also free up NASA to focus on more ambitious, longer-term goals.

However, many in NASA’s old guard oppose the plan. Charles Precourt, a former chief of NASA’s astronaut corps who is now a senior executive at aerospace and defense firm Alliant Techsystems Inc., said that farming out large portions of the manned space program to private firms would be a “really radical” and an “extremely high risk” path. Unless the overall budget goes up, he said, whatever new direction NASA pursues “isn’t going to be viable.”

Such arguments already are raging around NASA’s Ares I rocket, which could be replaced or scaled back if the commercial option gains traction. Some Ares I contract work could be shifted toward providing the basic elements of a future larger, more-powerful NASA family of rockets. Alliant and other Ares proponents have argued the program is several years behind schedule primarily because Congress and previous administrations failed to provide promised funding. According to some of these analyses, Congress in the past five years earmarked a total of about $4 billion less than initially projected for NASA’s manned exploration programs. The design of the Ares I also changed and became more complex since its inception.

Ares critics, on the other hand, counter that instead of costing about $4.3 billion as originally planned, the Ares booster is likely to cost more than three times that much. The program already has spent roughly $4 billion, and these critics say that exceeds original funding profiles for the Ares I by hundreds of millions of dollars. Moreover, they say that year-by-year expenditures actually exceeded the original timetable. NASA’s last budget projected spending another $9.5 billion through 2015.

The NASA budget, as it looks like in the Obama Administration is going to be determined year by year by the Office of Budget Management ( or is it Management and Budget?) and Congress.

Not exactly an edict from on high, isn’t it?

Imagine what it must be like to work for NASA right now?

It looks like the President punted the ball to Congress and is daring them to cancel or defund programs that are essential for jobs in their respective districts.

Well, they’re the ones who wanted the right to approve change to NASA programs in the first place, aren’t they?

Budget Freeze Is Proposed

White House Decides to Outsource NASA Work