From America Space:
There have been occasional suggestions that NASA should scrap its Space Launch System (SLS) in favor of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy for fulfilling its beyond low-Earth orbit needs . The claim forwarded by some is that the as-yet-untested-and-unflown 53 mt low-Earth orbit (LEO) (200 km @ 28°) Falcon Heavy is now “cheaper” than the as-yet-untested-and-unflown SLS. Furthermore, canceling the SLS would supposedly save NASA $10 billion—money that could otherwise be used to fund such programs as the Commercial Crew integrated Capability (CCiCap), to conduct a flight test of Orion on a Falcon Heavy, and to focus on building a small-scale space station in the area near the Moon. One issue not addressed by proponents of canceling SLS is whether it is a good idea to couple a nation’s human exploration spaceflight capabilities to a private company. An issue which appears to be altogether ignored, is the Falcon Heavy’s small lunar payload capability and the impact this would have on an already complex and risky endeavor such as lunar exploration.
According to SpaceX, the Falcon 9 Heavy, also called the Falcon Heavy, will have a 53 mt (metric ton) payload capacity to LEO of 200 km with an inclination of 28° . Such a LEO payload capability will be impressive, allowing SpaceX to launch nearly twice the payload of a Delta IV Heavy or an Atlas V, and to do so more cheaply than either. But when it comes to launching payload to a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) or beyond, the Falcon 9 Heavy falls far short of either the Delta or Atlas launchers. With a GTO payload of barely over 12 mt, the Falcon 9 Heavy is at least 1 metric ton, or 1,000 kg, under what either the Delta IV Heavy or Atlas V can deliver to the same point in space.
The Falcon 9 Heavy is, much like United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV Heavy, a triple-bodied version of the company’s Falcon 9 launch vehicle. Photo Credit: SpaceX
The Falcon 9 Heavy’s GTO payload deficiency relative to the existing EELV launch vehicles has other down-stream effects as to its appropriateness for beyond-Earth orbit (BEO) crewed exploration. It is safe to assume that the Falcon Heavy’s low-lunar orbit (LLO) payload capacity will not top much above 10 mt . How will the Falcon 9 Heavy’s meager LLO payload capacity enable a meaningful return to the Moon? And why even talk about the Falcon Heavy as a possible launcher of crewed lunar exploration when each of the Delta IV Heavy and Atlas V launchers can send over 1,000 kg more than the Falcon Heavy to the Moon? Moreover, while the Delta IV and Atlas V have extensive flight histories, the Falcon Heavy has no such experience.
Advocates of using the Falcon Heavy don’t just want to rewrite who takes us beyond-Earth orbit, but more fundamentally how such missions are built. Reliance upon the Falcon Heavy for launching a beyond-Earth exploration program means some hard choices as to mission architecture. Traditionally, crewed exploration beyond low-Earth orbit has focused on minimizing complexity, and therefore risk and cost, by using a heavy-lift rocket (HLV). The logic behind using an HLV for lunar exploration in the past was that fewer launches correlated to less risk. The Falcon Heavy’s 10 mt capability means that any lunar exploration program will have to be one of assembling pieces/parts in low-Earth orbit, where the Falcon Heavy’s (LEO) 53 mt payload capacity can really shine. Some have claimed that centering a beyond-Earth exploration program on the Falcon Heavy does not mean ending the Orion spacecraft program. They point this out because Orion is the only spacecraft designed from the ground up for beyond-Earth exploration. Certainly, a Falcon Heavy can place an Orion crewed and service module in low-Earth orbit. But several additional launches will be needed to send Orion and her crew to the Moon. A lunar crewed mission using the Falcon Heavy would mean assembling, at necessary LEO locations, a crewed vehicle, a lander, a trans-lunar injection stage, a stage to get the crewed spacecraft and lander into LLO, and possibly a separate stage to enable the crewed spacecraft to return to Earth .
While supporters of an all-commercial approach frequently tout the company’s laudable accomplishments, they just as frequently ignore the limitations of both the Falcon Heavy launch vehicle and the Dragon spacecraft. Photo Credit: SpaceX
One problem with a non-HLV approach to lunar exploration is that if a replacement Falcon Heavy and payload are not handy, any launch failure could very well mean a scrubbed mission. So a non-HLV approach necessarily means an inventory of not just a spare Falcon Heavy, but of duplicate spaceflight hardware—or designing hardware and refueling stations such that a delay of weeks or months would have only a marginal impact on the mission. Solving all of these unknown-unknowns (or unk-unks in engineering speak) associated with multiple launches, assembling a mission in LEO, in-space refueling at an orbiting location, among others flowing from a non-HLV approach to beyond-Earth exploration, could see the cost advantage of using the relatively unproven Falcon Heavy largely, if not completely, evaporate.
A beyond-Earth exploration program using the Falcon Heavy in an HLV architecture has its own downsides and associated costs. In order to enable the Falcon 9 Heavy to be a capable beyond low-Earth orbit launcher, funds will certainly be needed to create a new cryogenic second-stage. This will be needed because, in its current configuration, a Falcon 9 Heavy could not even launch one 11.6 mt Unity node module, much less a 20 mt Bigelow BA 330 Nautilus module. Even with a brand new second-stage, reliance upon the Falcon 9 Heavy to build, visit, and maintain a lunar orbiting outpost will dictate doing so in very small chunks; the number of launches will then begin to add-up, as will the complexity, risk, and cost. A Falcon Heavy cannot place an Orion spacecraft even in high-Earth, much less lunar, orbit. So reliance upon the Falcon 9 Heavy for beyond low-Earth missions in an HLV-based lunar mission architecture would only set NASA up to cancel Orion and go with Dragon for our nation’s crewed space exploration needs.
While it may be true that the Dragon spacecraft has a heatshield capable of allowing the spacecraft safe reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere, little else of Dragon is crew, much less lunar mission, capable. SpaceX’s Dragon is currently a participant in NASA’s commercial crew and cargo programs. One goal of NASA’s commercial crew program is to enable spacecraft built and operated by commercial space companies to get crews to and from the International Space Station by late 2017. But the requirements for a crewed spacecraft tailored for low-Earth orbit are different than those for beyond-Earth orbit. For one, a LEO capable spacecraft need only be capable of hours of operation, where a lunar spacecraft needs a capability of days. This means that the use of the Falcon Heavy as a means to returning humans to the Moon very likely means funding further enhancements, and verifying those enhancements to the Dragon spacecraft. As with over 90 percent of the funding for Falcon 9 and Dragon, this additional financial burden would fall upon NASA’s, and therefore the U.S. taxpayer’s, shoulders. Even with an enhanced Falcon Heavy launcher and Dragon spacecraft, more than one Falcon Heavy launch would still be needed to support a crewed lunar landing mission. Several Falcon Heavy launches would be needed to build a lunar orbiting outpost.
NASA’s SLS has the full support, to include funding, of Congress. As such, efforts to cancel the system in lieu of one that favors the company that SpaceX supporters approve of is not likely to occur. Image Credit: NASA
Or NASA could send a crewed lunar mission or build a lunar outpost with far fewer SLS launches. That’s because the very first iteration of the SLS, the Block I, will carry twice the payload of a Falcon Heavy to the Moon. The SLS Block II will have a lunar payload capacity nearly 3–4 times that of the Falcon Heavy, depending upon what engines are selected for the SLS’s advanced booster.
Beyond the SLS’s substantial payload advantage for lunar missions, the question of cost remains. Are 3 or 4 Falcon Heavy launches really cheaper than just one SLS Block II launch? That is a hard question to answer given that both launchers are still effectively “paper” rockets. In factoring launch costs, there is the cost of the launch vehicle, the launch pad, launch support, and post-launch management, just to name a few.
The bigger problem for those wishing to end the Space Launch System program is that it is currently ahead of schedule. According to John Elbon, Boeing VP & General Manager, Space Exploration, “We’re on budget, ahead of schedule. There’s incredible progress going on with that rocket” . Canceling a rocket that is ahead of schedule would be difficult at best. Given that Congress has, over three votes, not only supported SLS but increased its funding over amounts sought by the Obama Administration, the odds of opponents getting SLS canceled are slim-to-none.
Space Launch System opponents suggest that the SLS program should cancel until a mission requiring such a rocket is identified. John Shannon, also with Boeing, recently stated, “This ‘SLS doesn’t have a mission’ is a smokescreen that’s been put out there by people who would like to see that [program’s] budget go to their own pet projects. SLS is every mission beyond low Earth orbit. The fact that NASA has not picked one single mission is kind of irrelevant” . It bears mentioning that a good part of the reason there is no meaningful mission for the Orion-SLS is because the Obama Administration has not agreed with Congress that, as Congress noted in its 2010 NASA Authorization Act, cislunar space is the next step in our efforts beyond Earth and that the SLS is an integral part of that step.
Moreover, both short- and long-term missions for SLS have emerged in recent months. Within the 2014 FY Budget Proposal Request, NASA was directed to retrieve an asteroid, place it in lunar orbit, and then send astronauts to study it. The vehicle of choice is SLS. During a recent interview, NASA Deputy Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems in the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate Dan Dumbacher stated on AmericaSpace that the long-term mission for SLS was to send astronauts to Mars.
Mr. Jillhouse sings the acolades of the Space Launch System as others sing them about SpaceX’s Falcon9 rockets. What he fails to mention is the SLS’s massive program slippages and muti-billion dollar cost overruns, versus commercial’s million dollar overruns and schedule slippages. It’s not even in the same ballgame, let alone ballpark.
Also the point should be that NASA should’ve bid the SLS job out in order to save the taxpayers money, but the function of SLS isn’t primarily for beyond Earth orbit exploration.
It’s to provide jobs in states that have NASA centers. And that’s why these projects are perpetually underfunded, just enough money is sent in order to keep people employed as long as the politicians can make it possible.
Maybe in the end the SLS will get finished and work as advertised. If I live long enough.
I was actually surprised to see this printed on a mainstream site, especially an investment publication.
Charismatic president Hugo Chavez, 58, died of respiratory complications caused by pelvic cancer on Tuesday evening in Venezuela.
Or did he?
The announcement of Chavez’s death came hours after vice president, and now interim president Nicolas Maduro, met with Venezuela’s top political leaders and military brass to discuss the president’s ever-worsening health condition. At the time, Maduro apparently suggested that someone may have deliberately infected Chavez with cancer or some other agent that made him deteriorate, according to CNN. Maduro went so far as to call Chavez’s death an assassination, according to The Washington Post.
Stories of Chavez being essentially poisoned by the CIA have been around since his first tumor was reported back in 2011. Even controversial drama-loving Chavez himself wondered out loud if it were possible. To which the U.S State Department public affairs staff responded with a “that’s reprehensible”. What else are they going to say? You caught us?
For the sake of argument, we can say Maduro said no such thing about Chavez. Does one actually get injected with cancer? I mean, even if you did, your immune system would have to already be compromised already. We have cancer cells floating in our bodies all the time. They get destroyed, hopefully, on a daily basis.
But since Chavez announced he was heading to Havana for cancer treatment, conspiracies of a U.S. involvement began immediately. Chavez egged them on, if not outright got them rolling.
For those who can understand Spanish, this video of Chavez talking to the military questioned whether the U.S. was infecting rival leaders in Latin America with cancer. He said he found it an odd coincidence that major leaders south of the border, from Brazil’s Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to Dilma Rousseff, his handpicked successor, to the president of Argentina, Cristina Kirchner, all got cancer around the same time. And now…it was Chavez’s turn.
“I find it very strange. It is hard to explain,” he says in the video.
Of course, most of this has fallen on deaf ears. Even the video itself got under 10,000 viewers. And Hugo Chavez is, since Lula left office, the most famous politician in Latin America. He”s far from an unknown. The conspiracy angle has not caught fire.
The death of Chavez did not really rally the left outside of his home base. In Latin America, Lula was seen as the more charismatic, if not more practical leader of South America. Chavez was a firebrand, stoking Cold War rhetoric with Washington. As Latin American politics goes, Chavez was the anti-American.
So it is not surprising that here at home, the harshest critics of good, old fashion Yankee imperialism came out Wednesday in notes circulating in email in-boxes nationwide that Chavez may have been the victim of a U.S. plot to get rid of him once and for all. And while the left in the United States send out Viva Chavez, Viva La Revolucion kudos to the most reviled leader in Washington other than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the right wing, in their usual lust for kindness, is busy expression their sheer joy that the man is gone.
The Daily Caller wrote in an op ed by Christopher Bedford that “No, the U.S. didn’t kill Chavez. But we should have.”
Tea Party Republicans called him a tyrant, expressed relief that he was no longer a “force” to reckon with. Force quotes are mine, not his. Because, really, was Chavez a force to reckon with anywhere outside of Venezuela?
Meanwhile, there is a relative calm in Venezuela according to press reports and investment sources on the ground in Caracas. The market expects Maduro to be elected within 30 days.
Unless the CIA gives him cancer.
To see this printed in Forbes goes to show that even if there’s a hedge of truth to the “cancer” meme, the attitude of the public is “meh” and “What’s the deal ?” “The U.S. Government assassinates people on a daily basis.”
And goes to show how over-rated Chavez was to begin with.
I haven’t said much about politics lately. In fact I haven’t spoken about it in a year I think.
To me, all politics is media crap served up on a steaming platter disguised as “prime rib” to sell products and brain-wash the low informed voter.
As Scottish science-fiction author Charlie Stross observes; “…for a period of several months, culminating on November 6th, mind-numbingly huge quantities of money will be spent on systematically lying to the US electorate. Meanwhile, the news media will make hay.”:
News—I use the word to describe the news distribution media—is not about informing us about newsworthy events going on around us. Rather, it’s about delivering captive eyeballs to advertisers who in turn pay the news media the money they need in order to keep on doing what it is that they do, which is to say, making a profit. There are a handful of exceptions to this rule. State-owned propaganda media are there to push a particular political agenda on behalf of their owners, but they’re vanishingly rare in the English language media. The BBC is a very peculiar entity, a halfway-house between a state-owned propaganda agency and a truly independent news organization funded by charter: but it’s in competition with the regular commercial capitalist news media, and so has been co-opted into their advertising-driven rat-race to such an extent that it would be unwise to look to it for an independent view. In general, the English-language media are beholden to advertising as a revenue source, and this skews the way the news is presented to us, the audience of eyeballs they wish to attract and capture.
The need to sell eyeballs to advertisers means that news agencies need to maximize their audience. And because real news is random, chaotic, and incoherent, a big part of their job is to come up with a comprehensible narrative—a grand story of the world around us which makes sense and which keeps us sitting on the edge of our chairs, coming back for more each evening or morning. News—I speak here of the drug, not the pushers—needs to be attractive, enthralling, and addictive. Bad news (stories of horrible things happening to other people) is better than good news (stories about nice things happening) because our primate brains are wired to pay attention to disasters: paying attention to the bloody smear the leopard made of our neighbour yesterday is an important survival skill, which is why to this day you encounter highway tail-backs near any accident site as drivers slow down and rubberneck. The news content is therefore carefully packaged as a downer and delivered to us via drip-feed, a brightly-coloured candy shell wrapped around the faecal bolus of advertising that it is designed to make us ingest.
And so: the US presidential election.
There is no news here. On November 6th, a lot of Americans will go to the polls and tick a box for a candidate. The candidates on offer do not differ by very much; they represent, at best, different factions of the ruling oligarchy. We peer at them and magnify their differences and get upset about the prospects of the disruptive change that letting the wrong one in will cause—but in reality, neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney will unilaterally scrap the Pentagon, end the “war on terror”, or declare a Workers And Soldiers Soviet. Whoever occupies the Oval Office is a prisoner to the institutional interests of the various arms of the US government, and has to work with the Congress they’re given—remember who holds the purse strings? Truly disruptive candidates get filtered out of the system before the election campaign even gets under way: we saw a classic example of this during the Republican primaries this year as each anyone-but-Romney contender was paraded before the cameras for their fifteen minutes of fame before their flaws became too obvious and they were tossed on the scrap-heap of authenticity.
As a citizen of the U.K. Stross has a firm grip of the reality of U.S. politics and of the real rulers of the country – institutionalized corporate interests.
IMO, I could guess the ol’ U.K. operates much the same way.
After all, our country is descended from them.
The Apollo space missions to the Moon were the last Beyond Earth Orbit human explorations of Near space, the last being in 1972.
The main reasons being lack of public interest and funding, so any explorations beyond the Near Earth regions have been robotic due to their relative financial benefits and nobody worries much if a robot dies instead of a human being.
That issue might change in the future according to a paper written by Ian Crawford, a professor of planetary sciences at Birkbeck College (London):
…Out of necessity, all our missions to the outer system have been unmanned, but as we learn more about long-duration life-support and better propulsion systems, that may change. The question raised this past weekend in an essay in The Atlanticis whether it should.
Ian Crawford, a professor of planetary sciences at Birkbeck College (London) is the focus of the piece, which examines Crawford’s recent paper in Astronomy and Geophysics. It’s been easy to justify robotic exploration when we had no other choice, but Crawford believes not only that there is a place for humans in space, but that their presence is indispensable. All this at a time when even a return to the Moon seems beyond our budgets, and advanced robotics are thought by many in the space community to be the inevitable framework of all future exploration.
But not everyone agrees, even those close to our current robotic missions. Jared Keller, who wrote The Atlantic essay, dishes up a quote from Steve Squyres, who knows a bit about robotic exploration by virtue of his role as Principal Investigator for the Spirit and Opportunity rovers on Mars. Squyres points out that what a rover could do even on a perfect day on Mars would be the work of less than a minute for a trained astronaut. Crawford accepts the truth of this and goes on to question what robotic programming can accomplish:
“We may be able to make robots smarter, but they’ll never get to the point where they can make on the spot decisions in the field, where they can recognize things for being important even if you don’t expect them or anticipate them,” argues Crawford. “You can’t necessarily program a robot to recognize things out of the blue.”
Landing astronauts is something we’ve only done on the Moon, but the value of the experience is clear — we’ve had human decision-making at work on the surface, exploring six different sites (some of them with the lunar rover) and returning 382 kilograms of lunar material. The fact that we haven’t yet obtained samples from Mars doesn’t mean it’s impossible to do robotically, but a program of manned exploration clearly points to far more comprehensive surface study. Crawford points out that the diversity of returned samples is even more important on Mars, which is more geologically interesting than the Moon and offers a more complicated history.
Image: Apollo 15 carried out 18.5 hours of lunar extra-vehicular activity, the first of the “J missions,” where a greater emphasis was placed on scientific studies. The rover tracks and footprints around the area give an idea of the astronauts’ intense activity at the site. Credit: NASA.
Sending astronauts by necessity means returning a payload to Earth along with intelligently collected samples. From Crawford’s paper:
Robotic explorers, on the other hand, generally do not return (this is one reason why they are cheaper!) so nothing can come back with them. Even if robotic sample return missions are implemented, neither the quantity nor the diversity of these samples will be as high as would be achievable in the context of a human mission — again compare the 382 kg of samples (collected from over 2000 discrete locations) returned by Apollo, with the 0.32 kg (collected from three locations) brought back by the Luna sample return missions.
It’s hard to top a yield like that with any forseeable robotic effort. Adds Crawford:
The Apollo sample haul might also be compared with the ≤ 0.5 kg generally considered in the context of future robotic Mars sample return missions… Note that this comparison is not intended in any way to downplay the scientific importance of robotic Mars sample return, which will in any case be essential before human missions can responsibly be sent to Mars, but merely to point out the step change in sample availability (both in quantity and diversity) that may be expected when and if human missions are sent to the planet.
Large sample returns have generated, at least in the case of the Apollo missions, huge amounts of refereed scientific papers, especially when compared to the publications growing out of robotic landings. Crawford argues that it is the quantity and diversity of sample returns that have fueled the publications, and points out that all of this has occurred because of a mere 12.5 days total contact time on the lunar surface (and the actual EVA time was only 3.4 days at that). Compare this to the 436 active days on the surface for the Lunokhods and 5162 days for the Mars Exploration Rovers. Moreover, the Apollo publication rate is still rising. Quoting the paper again:
The lesson seems clear: if at some future date a series of Apollo-like human missions return to the Moon and/or are sent on to Mars, and if these are funded (as they will be) for a complex range of socio-political reasons, scientists will get more for our money piggy-backing science on them than we will get by relying on dedicated autonomous robotic vehicles which will, in any case, become increasingly unaffordable.
Will the Global Exploration Strategy laid out by the world’s space agencies in 2007 point us to a future in which international cooperation takes us back to the Moon and on to Mars? If so, science should be a major beneficiary as we learn things about the origin of the Solar System and its evolution that we would not learn remotely as well by using robotic spacecraft. So goes Crawford’s argument, and it’s a bracing tonic for those of us who grew up assuming that space exploration meant sending humans to targets throughout our Solar System and beyond. That robotic probes should precede them seems inevitable, but we have not yet reached the level of artificial intelligence that will let robots supercede humans in space.
Currently in mainstream space activities, commercial companies such as SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, Sierra Nevada, etc., are taking the lead in the future exploration of Near Space and the Solar System vice any future explorations by NASA, inspite of what parochial politicians in certain states try to do in Congress.
Of course this precludes any gains made by secret black projects in the military-industrial-complex in the area of any secret space programs.
Maybe that’s one of the reasons politicians aren’t too worried about sending manned NASA missions back to the Moon?
Many thanks to Paul Gilster and his great site Centauri Dreams.
Now George Nield, associate administrator of commercial space at the FAA believes the same thing can happen to that nascent industry, just like what happened to the railroads over 150 years ago:
“Would that be possible?” Nield asked the audience during a presentation here Wednesday (Feb. 29) at the 2012 Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference. “If you recognize that every day in the United States there are more than 30,000 flights by commercial airliners, then maybe three or four rocket launches per day doesn’t sound too unreasonable.”
A ‘Moore’s law for launch’
Nield is pushing for this so-called “Moore’s law for launch” to become a national goal. The original Moore’s law, which is named after Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, holds that the number of transistors on a computer chip doubles every two years.
Nield proposed some ideas that he said could help make the annual doubling of commercial launches a reality. [Top 10 Private Spaceships Headed for Reality]
For example, the federal government could offer to pay companies a fixed price per pound to launch construction materials, food and water to the moon, and rocket fuel to low-Earth orbit. In addition to laying the foundation for future lunar colonies and orbiting “gas stations,” this effort could help the American private spaceflight industry get off the ground, Nield said.
The government could also help fund a commercial “rocket railroad” that launches frequently on a published schedule, whether payloads are ready to go or not.
“Even if you were launching empty, there would still be significant benefits in terms of maturing the vehicles, training and energizing the workforce and strengthening the industry as a whole,” Nield said.
An orbital rocket railroad might be a tough sell in these challenging economic times, but a suborbital version wouldn’t exactly break the bank. At going rates, the government could get 1,000 suborbital missions for about $200 million, Nield said.
“Tough sell” is an understatement to say the least, especially with “old space” GOPer industry autarchs in Congress keep throwing up road-blocks in order to funnel money to their Congressional Districts ( http://www.spacepolitics.com/2012/03/01/congressmen-seek-to-fix-safety-glitch-with-commercial-crew-program/ ).
Eventually a private industry launch service will emerge, once people see that the cost of launches come down.
Like all transportation industries in the U.S., the government may start them, but private enterprise will take them over when they see it becomes cost effective to operate.
Well, the almost official word from the Obama White House has leaked out before the official release of the February 1st 2011 Fiscal Year Budget that concerns NASA funding.
And congress-critters whose states have a piece of the Constellation Program pie ain’t too happy:
President Barack Obama’s new plan for NASA could spark a fiery battle on Monday when it reaches the halls of Congress, where the agency’s current vision to send American astronauts back to the moon enjoys strong bipartisan support.
The Obama plan would effectively kill NASA’s Project Constellation — a program the nation has invested $9 billion in over the last six years; one that big, politically important states from Florida to California have a stake in.
The White House would encourage the development of a commercial rocket to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station.
A Florida lawmaker called the plan “simply unacceptable.” A Maryland senator said she was troubled. And in Louisiana, where the tanks for the Ares I and Ares V rockets are being built, one legislator warned it would end the country’s position as the global leader in space.
“Based on initial reports about the administration’s plan for NASA, they are replacing lost shuttle jobs in Florida too slowly, risking US leadership in space to China and Russia, and relying too heavily on unproven commercial companies,” said Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., a former astronaut, key Obama space advisor, and chairman of the House space subcommittee.
“If the $6 billion in extra funding is for a commercial rocket, then the bigger rocket for human exploration will be delayed well into the next decade. That is unacceptable.”
Administration officials say the proposed fiscal 2011 budget — due to be released Monday — will call for a $6 billion increase in NASA’s budget over five years.
But under Obama’s plan, NASA would shift focus from sending astronauts back to the moon to expanding research at the International Space Station and encouraging the commercial crew launches, administration officials said Wednesday. Those priorities would come at the expense of the Constellation program for human space flight, which a presidentialcommission warned in October has been under-funded and was not going to meet its targets.
My take on this is that the money should subsidize the infant commercial space launch companies like SpaceX, it’ll be cheaper in the long run and it’ll help the commercial sector develop infrastructure capable of developing the Earth-Moon system for business and colonization.
NASA still has it’s place, like developing new technologies that’ll take humans beyond the Earth-Moon system.
What I don’t like is what the space program has turned into, a pork-laden jobs program that produces nothing for decades. And votes for congress-critters.
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?
Naomi Klein’s ‘Shock Doctrine‘ currently is being played out in Haiti:
The Orwellian-named mercenary trade group, the International Peace Operations Association, didn’t waste much time in offering the “services” of its member companies to swoop down on Haiti for some old fashioned humanitarian assistance disaster profiteering. Within hours of the massive earthquake in Haiti, the IPOA created a special web page for prospective clients, saying: “In the wake of the tragic events in Haiti, a number of IPOA’s member companies are available and prepared to provide a wide variety of critical relief services to the earthquake’s victims.”
While some of the companies specialize in rapid housing construction, emergency relief shelters and transportation, others are private security companies that operate in Iraq and Afghanistan like Triple Canopy, the company that took over Blackwater’s massive State Department contract in Iraq. For years, Blackwater played a major role in IPOA until it left the group following the 2007 Nisour Square massacre.
In 2005, while still a leading member of IPOA, Blackwater’s owner Erik Prince deployed his forces in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Far from some sort of generous gift to the suffering people of the US gulf, Blackwater raked in some $70 million in Homeland Security contracts that began with a massive no-bid contract to provide protective services for FEMA. Blackwater billed US taxpayers $950 per man per day.
The current US program under which armed security companies work for the State Department in Iraq—the Worldwide Personal Protection Program—has its roots in Haiti during the Clinton administration. In 1994, private US forces, such as DynCorp, became a staple of US operations in the country following the overthrow of Jean Bertrand Aristide by CIA-backed death squads. When President Bush invaded Iraq, his administration radically expanded that program and turned it into the privatized paramilitary force it is today. At the time of his overthrow in 2004, Aristide was being protected by a San Francisco-based private security firm, the Steele Foundation.
What is unfolding in Haiti seems to be part of what Naomi Klein has labeled the “Shock Doctrine.” Indeed, on the Heritage Foundation blog, opportunity was being found in the crisis with a post titled: “Amidst the Suffering, Crisis in Haiti Offers Opportunities to the U.S.” “In addition to providing immediate humanitarian assistance, the U.S. response to the tragic earthquake in Haiti earthquake offers opportunities to re-shape Haiti’s long-dysfunctional government and economy as well as to improve the public image of the United States in the region,” wrote Heritage fellow Jim Roberts in a post that was subsequently altered to tone down the shock doctrine language. The title was later changed to: “Things to Remember While Helping Haiti.”
During the past 24 hours, Haiti was hit with a 6.0 Richter ‘after-shock’ and the refugees leaving Port-Au-Prince are reaching staggering proportions. Death squads and price gouging ‘entrepreneurs’ are running rough-shod over the beleaguered population.
A perfect storm for ‘catastrophic capitalism!’