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Editorial: President Proposes Bold New Approach to Exploring the Final Frontier February 6, 2010

by Andre Bormanis , Filed under: Editorial,Science/Technology , trackback

In 2008 Star Trek writer/producer and science advisor Andre Bormanis wrote an editorial here at TrekMovie about the presidential campaign and the future of NASA, advocating the Constellation program. Barack Obama (a Trekkie) went on to win the election and this week his administration announced a major shift in NASA policy, including the cancellation of Constellation. Today Andre is back with his thoughts on the new NASA.

 

President Proposes Bold New Approach to Exploring the Final Frontier

by Andre Bormanis

The announcement of the change of policy for NASA came with Monday’s submission of the NASA’s FY 2011 budget, which opened with the following statement (full of Trek-isms).

Today we are launching a bold and ambitious new space initiative to enable us to explore new worlds, develop more innovative technologies, foster new industries, increase our understanding of the earth, expand our presence in the solar system, and inspire the next-generation of explorers.
– NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, February 1, 2010

The bad news is, the Constellation program has been cancelled. The good news is, the Constellation program has been cancelled.

Constellation was initiated in 2004 by the Bush Administration to return American astronauts to the moon. The intention was to build an Apollo-style capsule that would accommodate up to six astronauts, riding atop a new launch vehicle, Ares-I, largely derived from Space Shuttle booster technology. Eventually a heavy-lift launcher and Moon landing vehicle would be developed as well.

After six years and roughly $9 billion, Constellation has produced a couple of mock-up capsules and test articles, and only one test flight, of just the first stage of the proposed Ares-I. This is mostly the fault of the previous Administration and Congress, which never funded the program at the level it needed to keep on schedule, and get crews to the Moon by 2020. Even if it were fully funded today, no one believes that a Moon landing would happen by 2020, and accomplishing this goal – essentially a repeat performance of what we did with Apollo over forty years ago – would cost on the order of $100 billion. It would further drain money from space science and unmanned exploration of the solar system at a time when our robotic emissaries are so brilliantly demonstrating their exceptional capabilities.


Artist rendition of (now cancelled) Constellation program Orion spacecraft in lunar orbit

President Obama has instead chosen to end Constellation, but also to add money to the NASA budget to develop advanced propulsion systems, automated rendezvous hardware, orbital fuel depots, and other technologies that will be needed to get humans beyond low-Earth orbit (LEO). The job of ferrying astronauts to and from LEO will be given to private industry, with about $6 billion in new NASA funding over the next five years.

Critics of this approach cite two immediate concerns: one, private space ventures have yet to demonstrate that they can reliably send people, not just payloads, into orbit. This is certainly true, and there is probably greater risk in handing this task to the private sector than in giving the job to NASA (as lead contractor – private industry has always built space hardware).

Secondly, as a couple of friends recently reminded me, technology development in the absence of a clear and specific goal often leads to a lot of fancy hardware that never gets used. Constellation, whatever its faults, at least had a clear goal: get Americans back to the Moon.

Although no specific goals were laid out in their plan, NASA’s chief did make comments to the press about where he sees the new vision leading:

Imagine trips to Mars that take weeks instead of nearly a year, people fanning out across the inner solar system, exploring the moon, asteroids and Mars nearly simultaneously in a steady stream of firsts.
– NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, February 1, 2010

Personally, I think President Obama made the right decision. Although I initially supported Constellation, the program has become, at best, a slow road back to the Moon, and that road is almost certainly a dead end, not a stepping-stone to more distant journeys. I do hope that in the coming months Obama will articulate a specific set of destinations for NASA beyond LEO – the Lagrange points, a near-Earth asteroid, possibly the Martian moons – that can pave the way to an eventual human landing on Mars.

Yes, it’s a risk to give up Constellation and turn the reins to LEO over to the private sector, and yes, it’s a risk to develop new technologies before specific missions with the necessary political support have been established. But as James T. Kirk once said, “Risk is our business!”


Could NASA’s new direction be the right path to the final frontier seen in Star Trek?

 

More to come on new NASA Debate
Tomorrow TrekMovie will have another editorial on this topic from another Trek vet, but with a differing point of view.

 

Andre Bormanis was the Star Trek science advisor for several years before becoming a full-time writer and eventually producer for “Star Trek: Enterprise”. He holds a B.S. in Physics and an M.A. in Science, Technology, and Public Policy, the latter earned under a NASA Space Grant fellowship. He is a long-time space advocate and member of The Planetary Society. Andre is currently a writer and producer for the ABC Studios series “Legend of the Seeker”.

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NX-17000
February 6, 2010 12:09 pm

1st!!! This is interesting… Hope that we get to do what Bolden said within my lifetime. That would just be great.

Kirk's Revenge
February 6, 2010 12:16 pm

To boldly go where no penny-pincher has gone before.

Cmdr John Koenig
February 6, 2010 12:21 pm

Dammit Jim, I was hoping to go back to the moon.

AJ
February 6, 2010 12:28 pm

We cannot look at space exploration as country-specific anymore. The US (or China, or Russia) gains no strategic “advantage” going back to the moon (besides ‘yay, we’re on the moon!’).

It’s taken a few decades for humanity to feel that the achievement of lunar landings belong to Earth as opposed to the US alone. With the space station out there, it’s probably time to rally the UN to create a united space agency.

And, by golly, I think I’ll send a letter to Secretary Moon now.

February 6, 2010 12:33 pm

Its a shame to see money go warfare instead of peacefull exploration of the stars. But the irony of it that conservatives do support privatizing. Various agencies of goverment. I say give NASA what it needs and develope more reusable crafts @ equipment and head to the moon and mars after. Privatetise Iraq. Or do we have to have WW 3 first, Post-Atomic Horror, then Rush Paxton LOL! Then head to the Stars? We may not be so lucky in real life history

Trelane
February 6, 2010 12:34 pm

Mars or Bust!

February 6, 2010 12:42 pm
RE: Int’l I agree that International cooperation is important. Way back in 2007 I wrote an editorial about that: http://trekmovie.com/2007/06/03/time-to-form-starfleet/ If you read the NASA budget, linked at the top of the page, there is hope, as you see in the details there is a lot of talk about working with int’l partners. I think that perhaps part of the reasoning for the vageuness of say ‘mars by 20xx’ is that NASA wants to figure out a way to turn the mars mission into something like ISS and so instead of declaring it a NASA goal and then asking others… Read more »
Jim Durdan
February 6, 2010 12:47 pm

I usually agree with Andre. To bad this time he is 100% wrong.

Does anyone really think is Nations cannot exist in peaceful co-existence on Earth they will in space?

Naiveté

February 6, 2010 12:49 pm

I wanted to go back to the moon too, but I believe it was a good decision tp scrap the Constellation Program (it was huge drain on the limited NASA budget). The Robonaut’s can do the same job at a fraction of the cost, thus expanding our presence in the Universe over a shorter amount of time.

My guess is that this will actually get us to Mars faster.

Anti-ChiCom
February 6, 2010 12:53 pm

This country is BROKE!

I love the space program as much as anyone but let’s be REAL. When you’re out of work, you don’t get a credit card to pay for a trip to HAWAII!!

Time to take off the rose colored glasses. Just because we WANT a thing does not make that thing a necessity.

Time to tighten the belt and quit borrowing money from the ChiComs!

We need to be cutting costs and programs and, sadly, the fact is the space program IS one we can cut.

February 6, 2010 12:55 pm

I have to agree that going to the stars require global teamwork. Its not only easy on the purse but joining together would bring the dream alive. A united Earth effort. Or we can bloat up our militeristic Hawk budget and our moon will turn into Praxis

Schultz
February 6, 2010 1:00 pm

##4&7: I’m all for a UN space federation. Definitely a good idea, and not only economically. ;)

spock
February 6, 2010 1:19 pm

I really wish this site would stop carrying Obama’s water. He has DESTROYED THE SPACE PROGRAM, and is giving it a bogus mission with the bogus GLOBAL WARMING research. As the UK media has been doing the heavy lifting on the story of how research was falsified, and data was tampered with. Even NASA’s hands aren’t clean.

UN space program is bogus too. Another way to extort money from America.

Enterprisingguy
February 6, 2010 1:22 pm

I’m afraid we have a long way to go as a people before we will ever see the kind of global teamwork some would wish for.

The UN is as corrupt and political as any organization there ever was. It’s totally ineffectual. The members all have agendas of their own. I can’t see things being any different at this stage cooperating among countries to go into space.

One day…maybe. But not now.

Holger
February 6, 2010 1:25 pm

Hey, I already have a Constellation mission patch. Damn!

Now seriously, I have no trust in private business’ ability to handle scientific and exploration spaceflight. But let’s see what will come out of it.

spock
February 6, 2010 1:26 pm

It’s better for the nations to skip the UN and work within their own alliances. After all we don’t need to be sharing the technology with the thugs and dictators that infest the UN. Libs need to lose their rose colored glasses. They remind me of the people who follow the will of landru. ;)

spock
February 6, 2010 1:30 pm

Maybe TOTUS can come up with a vision for the space program worth of JFK’s goal. I just don’t see it since the attitude of “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” is dead.

RTC
February 6, 2010 1:31 pm
Sadly, I have my doubts regardless of approach. There is simply no collective will on the part of the American people to pursue space exploration. Sure, we get excited about launches and rovers and cool new photos. But when it comes down to brass tacks–or more precisely, zinc-copper pennies, a whole bunch of ’em–Americans don’t want to spend the dough to go to the moon, Mars or anywhere else. Their sense of exploration ends at their wallets. It was different in the 1960s, when we feared a ‘red moon’ and moustache-twirling Soviets sure to drop bombs from orbit upon our… Read more »
February 6, 2010 1:36 pm

CBSpock

final warning for partisan trolling

It is possible to have discussions here without making sweeping generalizations about one side or another, and this is about space not about left right partisan bs.

Also this site will be presenting the opposing view tomorrow, we are not ‘carrying the water’ for anyone

Pat Gleeson
February 6, 2010 1:51 pm
# 18 “And we’ll have lost another one of those unique traits that made America special.” I couldn’t agree more. The manned space programme at it’s peak was a unique undertaking which did more for US prestige and advancement than anything before or since. The “Great new American Enterprise” as JFK called it has – to all intents and purposes – been mothballed. Any compromises made with such large scale programmes lead to cancellation in the end. 50 years 1961 – 2011. I wonder would Chinese taikonaut footsteps on the moon cause a paradigm shift in attitudes? They must be… Read more »
February 6, 2010 2:42 pm
As I wrote on my blog (clickable above) a few days ago — the first time I updated it since exactly a year before — the President’s policy is a disaster and a waste of some of most precious resources — money and time. I am beyond disappointed with President Obama’s utter lack of integrity on this issue. I note in the same blog his campaign promises at the time they were made relative to NASA. The contrast between what he promised then and what he has actually proposed is stunning. Don’t believe Administrator Bolden’s spin. It’s nonsense. I urge… Read more »
February 6, 2010 3:03 pm
A few reasons why Administrator Bolden’s defense of his boss’s NASA policy is sheer nonsense: 1. His position is that NASA has not abandoned human spaceflight. But the reason he claims this is true is that there will still be astronauts who will circle the Earth in low-Earth orbit. For most serious thinkers, circling the Earth endlessly is not the kind of human spaceflight we have in mind. John Glenn and before him, Yuri Gargarin did this six decades ago. In the year 2010, our highest aspirations for human exploration of space is still only to circle the Earth? 2.… Read more »
P Technobabble
February 6, 2010 3:16 pm
I believe those who “rule the world” have a fundamentally materialistic vision of human enterprises, and are, therefore, more concerned with building “treasures on earth.” They do not have the vision required to solve human problems, let alone travel to the stars. I saw a great bumper sticker yesterday, but couldn’t see who the author was: “When the power of love conquers the love of power, then there will be peace.” This is the sort of vision I am talking about. If humanity had no need to spend a single dime on warfare, security, etc. there would be plenty of… Read more »
C.S. Lewis
February 6, 2010 3:24 pm
Among my other academic accomplishments, I hold an MBA and an academic MS (with an unrequited invitation to my Ph.D.) from top-notch institutions both of which focused on strategic competitive analysis and finance, with heavy doses of economics, marketing, etc. As a high level, working management consultant with several prestigious firms, my clients are the senior finance management of the most successful organizations in the world, be they government, NGO or Fortune 500/Global 200 corporations. (For the record, I am not in the least bit associated with Wall Street, although I did spend two unpleasant engagements at Fannie Mae.) I… Read more »
February 6, 2010 3:28 pm

Sadly, my talents at prolixity fail me when compared to other leading lights of this forum, so I will say merely this:

Lewis: 1492. Isabella. Columbus.

Q.E.D.

Imrahil
February 6, 2010 3:56 pm

Oh, and #24: America was “united” in the 1960s? Really? I call bullshit on you.

Craiger
February 6, 2010 4:00 pm

So what is going to replace the Space Shuttle? I never did like the capsule design and having a separate playload vehical. Couldn’t they just come up with a new Space Shuttle design that is smaller and faster but still can carry payloads?

JDM
February 6, 2010 4:02 pm
Lewis is right, and citing victories of exploration anywhere from 200-400 years ago or more will not change that. The idea that seems to have been prevalent since people really thought Obama could win in 2008 seems also to have been that, so long as enough people like the idea, then it’s worth throwing money at, the likes of which Lewis talks about from independent, productive tax payers. It’s a fundamental reason why the recent healthcare reform bill(s) didn’t go through. Even if everyone agreed on exactly what the problems are and that the Democratic Party’s solution is potentially the… Read more »
Magic_Al
February 6, 2010 4:02 pm
It’s not that the U.S. can’t afford a bigger space program, it’s that the U.S. doesn’t want a bigger space program. If there was a way to link space with national security, money would be thrown at it with little accountability. In 2003 the Pentagon was caught being unable to account for $1 trillion (with a T), but given the political climate at the time hardly any eyebrows were raised. People just assumed whatever was paid for must have helped national security somehow, as though no proof is required. In fact the administration’s response was to propose reporting to Congress… Read more »
February 6, 2010 4:06 pm
Many who may be inclined to support the so-called “privatization” of space take the view that private enterprise will find a way to get to space much more cheaply. If so, then I have one question: Why hasn’t it already? To the extent that private space has ventured into spaceflight, it is, in the case of the collaboration of Scaled Composites with Virgin Galactic, in large measure because NASA did it first — with billions of dollars of R & D and decades of effort having already been invested. Virgin Galactic, however, didn’t need money from NASA. Why, then, deprive… Read more »
February 6, 2010 4:07 pm

Correction: “The private enterprise model really doesn’t need public funding for the objectives it has in mind.”

As corrected.

C.S. Lewis
February 6, 2010 4:12 pm
^26 Imrahil Yes, it is difficult for you to imagine, but it is true. Swearing and cursing me will not change that fact. I know, I was there (if only as a child). Moreover, my ancestry as an American dates to 1620, descendant of the Pilgrim Fathers and a “Son of the American Revolution” whose forefathers died on both sides of that war. This is a heritage and a status difficult for the multicult to understand, but it existed, invented this thing we call America, and made possible those quintessential exploits, no matter how alien a concept it might seem… Read more »
justcorbly
February 6, 2010 4:14 pm
This is a much more well-reasoned editorial on this subject than I’ve seen in mainstream or specialist media. If we are to develop and sustain an infrastructure that supports human space exploration, the need for a major private sector role is obvious. (if, and when, we are attacked by Romulans, the government can step back in.) While I am not a private space ideologue, it’s obvious that NASA’s monopoly of human spaceflight discouraged private sector efforts. The sooner we bite the bullet on this, the better. If NASA again funds research in advanced propulsion, and figures out how to fly… Read more »
KMKProd
February 6, 2010 4:16 pm
15. Hold on to that patch, it was designed by Mr. Okudagram himself Mike Okuda–who does a lot of patch and graphic designs for NASA. It is hard to believe that a man who is so adamantly upposed to the private sector and capitalism is now so willing to hand over human space flight operations to private businesses (who are no where near being ready to take on the mantle). I’m raising the BS flag here. Especially when the budget for NASA is on average 0.6% of the US annual budget. This decision is probably a payoff to China for… Read more »
kmart
February 6, 2010 4:21 pm
26, It was united till events DURING the 60s tore it apart. Some of us were THERE, you know, and others have actually studied history. The early 60s were still coasting on the delusions of the 50s. The only way to justify a manned spaceprogram is based on guaranteed returns — namely, a high velocity transport that can carry a lot of folks to the asteroid belt to bring back enough platinum to change the world’s economy in a huge way. Basically, you need to do a SALVAGE-1 (anybody old enough to remember that show?) for real. Doing stuff out… Read more »
KMKProd
February 6, 2010 4:22 pm
Also, about the need to go to the Moon again, and this “been there, done that” attitude: If we are to go and land on Mars, wouldn’t it be prudent to practice all the procedures and get the equipment and everything right closer to home, before we make the trip–whether it takes weeks or months to get there? The Moon is only 3 days away, and we can mount a rescue a lot simpler there. Also, lifting off from the Moon would be easier and cheaper since the gravity is 1/6 that of Earth. This “bold new plan” for NASA… Read more »
KMKProd
February 6, 2010 4:28 pm

30. “…this act of intercourse no joke, and it’s the American people who are on the receiving end of it.”

Wow, that is a great comment. Great job.

February 6, 2010 4:36 pm

@ 25. Hat Rick

1312. Abubakari II. Recife, Brazil.

February 6, 2010 4:36 pm

Thanks, 37. It’s nice to be appreciated!

Please feel free to comment on my blog. All comments are moderated.

February 6, 2010 4:41 pm

28:

It’s worth bearing in mind, as well, that the retrenchment of Imperial China after the travels of Zheng He, which brought him around the world in mighty fleets of giant exploratory vessels — dwarfing by far those of Columbus — may have portended an era of decline in that country. Had the emperor not dismantled the fleet, China might have been the first to colonize North America.

See, e.g.: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1421_Hypothesis

February 6, 2010 4:57 pm
We need international cooperation, for sure. Plus we need to open it up to companies who aren’t operating in the 1960’s in terms of cost and budget overruns. I applaud Obama for doing the smart thing. We need a renewed focus on new ideas and concepts. And how about a big hand for NASA, regardless. They get ONLY 19 billion a year, and do a lot with that. People ignorantly think NASA is this huge cash drain, no that would be the Pentagon. NASA in reality doesn’t get a ton of money to do what they’re asked to do.
guest
February 6, 2010 5:01 pm

Regardless of the best approach to reach space in the future, there will never be an earth alliance trying to solve the problem. If China ever gets to the moon or other space body, it will be declared Chinese territory, treaties or no treaties. Some might not care but economically, a big chunk of space rock could provide a nation with a LOT of resources and wealth. To pretend there is no space race is simply handing the win over to everyone who is racing. Losing the race could cost much more than winning…

boborci
February 6, 2010 5:07 pm

No need fora public space program when the secret one is doing just fine!;)

Thorny
February 6, 2010 5:19 pm
34. I’m not really sure where you’re getting your “the private sector is nowhere near ready” ideas from. Who do you think builds all of the satellites we have in space? NASA doesn’t. Corporations like Boeing, Space Systems / Loral and Lockheed-Martin do. Who built the pressurized modules for the Space Station? Boeing and the private company Alenia of Italy did. Who launches all of our satellites into space? Lockheed, Boeing (together forming United Launch Alliance) and Orbital Sciences do. SpaceX has launched one so far with its cheap Falcon 1 and has its much larger Falcon 9 at the… Read more »
D
February 6, 2010 5:19 pm
Oh well, now I don’t feel so bad about failing to become an Astronaut, as I would be without a job..or at least a ship. Also, I doubt that turning over spacecraft developement and operations to private companies is really going to reduce costs that much. NASA isn’t going to be merely “hiring out a scheduled space tourism flight” in the same manner you can rent a commercial airliner. They are going to follow the military’s aircraft development and procurement process, which, if you haven’t noticed, the last couple of aircraft the military has aquired have NOT been cheap. And… Read more »
I am not Herbert
February 6, 2010 5:35 pm

43. boborci: “No need fora public space program when the secret one is doing just fine!;)”

HEH!!

Release the UFO technology!

February 6, 2010 5:57 pm
Thorny wrote, “I’m not really sure where you’re getting your “the private sector is nowhere near ready” ideas from. Who do you think builds all of the satellites we have in space? NASA doesn’t. Corporations like Boeing, Space Systems / Loral and Lockheed-Martin do. Who built the pressurized modules for the Space Station? Boeing and the private company Alenia of Italy did. Who launches all of our satellites into space? Lockheed, Boeing (together forming United Launch Alliance) and Orbital Sciences do. SpaceX has launched one so far with its cheap Falcon 1 and has its much larger Falcon 9 at… Read more »
Federali Aundy
February 6, 2010 6:03 pm

Thank you Mr. President for advancing the destruction of our Space Program.

CmdrR
February 6, 2010 6:03 pm

Bob — I’m fine with Section 31 doing all the work. But, I want Elvis back, OK?

ryanhuyton
February 6, 2010 6:10 pm
A manned mission to Mars won’t happen until the 22nd century in my opinion. I also think that more cutbacks will be made to the unmanned space programs, i.e Mars Rover and Hubble telescope if not abandoned altogether. The only international ventures into space appear to be by countries such as Iran, Russia, North Korea, Pakistan, China, India and the U.S. Each intends to build orbital nuclear weapons platforms. One button is pressed, and a single city or country is wiped out in an instant. That appears to be the priority right now. Ironically, the only thing countries seem to… Read more »
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