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”.
1st!!! This is interesting… Hope that we get to do what Bolden said within my lifetime. That would just be great.
To boldly go where no penny-pincher has gone before.
Dammit Jim, I was hoping to go back to the moon.
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.
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
Mars or Bust!
I agree that International cooperation is important. Way back in 2007 I wrote an editorial about that:
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 to join it, eventually we will see an Int’l effort with some joint announcement.
Bolden did speak about this a bit in his statement on Monday, saying:
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?
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.
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.
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
##4&7: I’m all for a UN space federation. Definitely a good idea, and not only economically. ;)
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.
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.
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.
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. ;)
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.
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 collective heads. We don’t feel that sense of threat. Watch when the Chinese or Indians finally reach the moon; outwardly, we Americans will simply bury any insecurity, shrug and say, “So what? We did that in 1969.”
I’m not dismissing the need for us to aggressively tackle social ills like poverty, access to health care and other things. We must do that. It’s a moral tragedy that we haven’t done so yet. But I believe there is at least some room to do both–and we’re missing it.
Saddest of all, we’ll have missed the whole, exciting notion of what it means to lead humankind to a new, wondrous place. We’ll have missed the many ways we can leverage that leadership, that know-how, throughout our society. And we’ll have lost another one of those unique traits that made America special.
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
# 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 due another space launch sometime soon.
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 anyone who wishes our space program well to write their representative about what seems a betrayal of our national effort toward the human exploration and exploitation of space. I’ve already done the same.
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. Bolden claims that NASA’s money will be used to fund new technological development. This is nothing more than building castles in the air hoping that the castle will float. Part of NASA’s job already includes research and development, and very little has availed itself in that respect other than incremental improvements. Given the track record we’ve seen, from the cancellation of post-Apollo flights to the termination of the aersopike-engined X-33 to the proposed cancellation of Constellation, every single program promising to develop new and radical technologies has proven to produce nothing more (or less) than evolutionary improvement.
The warp engine isn’t coming any time soon.
Yes, there is the ion engine, but it would take decades to develop that into a viable technology for human spaceflight.
Bolden is taking advantage of the lack of education of many observers to attempt to fool them into the belief that months of manned spaceflight can be easily shortened into weeks. But we can’t even to that for unmanned spaceships, let alone manned ones. And we won’t, for many decades.
Is President Obama prepared to tell the truth of that to the American people?
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 money for the exploration of the final frontier.
Perhaps it requires a greater examination of what the people of Kirk’s time are really like, and how they get to be that way…
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 don’t know how to break this to you, but a return to manned interplanetary spaceflight is a delusional fantasy.
The United States is in technical bankruptcy. If every person living on the land mass of the United States were enslaved and their labors directed to the federal government, existing obligations to external sovereign states could not be satisfied.
To direct privately owned, forcibly obtained tax dollars to such a boondoggle is immoral. (And yes, it is immoral for the other 65-75% of the federal budget not spent on Constitutionally mandated purposes but I digress.)
While the perverse logic of our “management of perspectives” economy dictates the truth be withheld and baffling, deliberately obfuscating esoterica be promoted in its place, one must question if NASA is given a budget solely to maintain the facade that all is well. Certainly, NASA is dubious luxury in the best of times. Today, it represents conspicuous consumption reminiscent of the Gilded Age – and it will be equally resented as the masses come to realize the truth, the complete horror of our present economic situation.
The Apollo program was embraced by the Americans of the 1960s for two fundamental reasons:
1. Conquest of the moon was an almost archetypal vision of mankind since before history
2. Americans were a united, unified people that could properly be called a nation in the literal sense.
Today, the USA is a hodge-podge “free for all” and the only unifying force is a common desire for the US dollar, which I have pointed out is soon to be worthless. Absent said greed, there is no compelling reason for the productive, tax-paying minority of this land to underwrite their neighbors, let alone finance a monumental voyage to outer space with no apparent benefit other than “That’s sooo cool!”
If persons who are fans of the fictional world of Star Trek truly wish to visit outer space in their lifetimes, then they must immediately set about to productive work, imposing federal/state/personal financial responsibility on a gargantuan scale, and right the present, almost inconceivably crushing economic realities of today.
Then, in a generation or two or three, we might be sufficiently independent as a people, securely living within our financial means and we might then and only then contemplate the luxury of sending men into space for the devil of it.
In the mean time, every penny spent on NASA (and most other government budget items) is taken at the point of a gun from productive members of society and directed toward spending that is, ipso facto immoral and usually wasted.
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.
Oh, and #24: America was “united” in the 1960s? Really? I call bullshit on you.
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?
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 most effective one, the resources simply don’t exist to effectively implement the changes, which in this case (for better or worse) would meet with tumultuous resistance and take so much time to actually do the good it’s supposed to do that it risks being cut-back or completely overhauled if another Republican is (allowed to be) elected President.
I use the word “allowed” in parentheses here not to be snide or sarcastic but because, again, regardless of where you stand on the issue and from a political perspective, it would almost take a benevolent, perhaps temporary dictatorship to properly shepherd such a program through. This is something that should be fairly obvious given the fact that the next biggest such program was likely Social Security, which FDR had roughly a decade to set up and guide. Also, the 60’s probably had the benefit of 8+ years of Democratic leadership, at least in the White House, to ensure continuity of the moon landing effort.
The space program is likely to be a similar situation, at least with the kind of lofty goals proposed here. I tend to be conservative, but I actually agree that the Constellation program under Bush was a waste if he and his party never intended to properly fund it in the first place. Again, though, this is basically an apolitical issue. Either we have the money, or can expect to have it over the course of a certain period of time, or we don’t. Right now, BOTH parties agree that we don’t, and yet far too many seem to think it will magically appear out of thin air (or be replicated LOL) given the idea is popular enough. This kind of thinking didn’t work for Bush and the Republicans with the Iraq war (which had public and BIPARTISAN support in the beginning) and it’s clearly not working so well for Obama and the Democrats.
As far as a “unified world,” or one-world-order, it’s not only delusional, but would invariably lead to the very kind of corruption and oppression that many progressives claim to be against. It is, to me anyhow, and to anyone that values their independence and sovereignty, an inherently oppressive concept and one easily fought because its opponents tend to be the ones with the money to fight it.
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 in LESS detail and giving the SecDef MORE spending discretion. That’s how easily money flows and questions are silenced when The People are behind you.
To put it simply, when Americans are afraid, they will write a blank check. Maybe NASA needs to do more fear-mongering about Near Earth Objects, although probably one needs to hit before the public at large would ever care about it.
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 NASA of funding for Constellation on the pretext that private enterprise needs it?
As “C.S. Lewis” of this forum has stated, the private enterprise model really doesn’t need private funding for the objectives it has it mind.
And those objectives have nothing to do with the objectives that, until now, Constellation has served. Those objectives are far loftier, far more ambitious, and far more compelling than space tourism. They are also far riskier and far more expensive. Sending human beings more than 200,000 miles away to land on the Moon is orders of magnitude more complex than sending a tourist vehicle on a ballistic trajectory or, in the case of SpaceX, even sending cargo capsules to the ISS.
Constellation was, in essence, the ultimate R & D effort, and it served the same function that NASA’s original Mercury-Gemini-Apollo programs did on a much vaster and interplanetary scale. Terminating the Mercury, Gemini, or Apollo programs would have made it much more difficult, if not impossible, for the SpaceX’s of the world to exist today. Likewise, to the extent that it is terminated, the R & D toward Constellation’s implementation that would give rise to future versions of SpaceX would no longer exist.
The new budget for NASA effectively terminates the ultimate R & D program on the very rationale that R & D should be increased. That makes as much as sense, as the great George Carlin once said, as having sex in the name of abstinence. Unfortunately, in this case, this act of intercourse no joke, and it’s the American people who are on the receiving end of it.
Correction: “The private enterprise model really doesn’t need public funding for the objectives it has in mind.”
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 to you.
Yes, I grieve at her loss. Sadly, you will never know nor understand what she was like nor would I hazard are particularly interested. You see only the carcass of a once great nation yet under the illusions of the omnipresent propaganda of the state, mistake it for my authentic Lady Liberty of song and story.
Heavy sigh… there are none so blind etc but it explains your choice of vocabulary and cynical perspective that such a place could ever exist, when you have known only the Matrix, in a manner of speaking.
You may now return to your idle distractions and day dreams.
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 a working plasma rocket, people will forget about Constellation.
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 lending us so much money–we give them the moon in return. They plan to be there by 2018-20 and who knows what they will do with our equipment that is still there. They may even claim there is nothing and that we never went. (JK-or am I?)
I am pissed, but I have hope for change and that there are a lot of people in Congress that are against this obamanation of a budget. This year there will be a turnover in Congress, and then in 2012 someone else will come in and correct alot of this mess.
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 there for national pride or any other reason that doesn’t MASSIVELY affect this country and others in the way that platinum would (assuming it can be mined easily, something I haven’t read much about in the last 18 years or so) is pointless posturing.
I am so disappointed that the sps programs went nowhere. I don’t know if it was NASA incompetence or some of the backward-thinking environmentalists (that ain’t all of them, but a few) that got it canned, but there’s another example of pissing the future away.
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 is a travesty; it is killing more than 50 years of human space flight in the US. Astronauts I work with are saying this is BS.
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.
@ 25. Hat Rick
1312. Abubakari II. Recife, Brazil.
Thanks, 37. It’s nice to be appreciated!
Please feel free to comment on my blog. All comments are moderated.
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
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.
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…
No need fora public space program when the secret one is doing just fine!;)
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 Cape being prepared for first flight in a month or two. Who is NASA depending on to deliver supplies to the Space Station after the Shuttle retires? Not a big government “Shuttle II”, they’re paying SpaceX and OSC to do it.
So if private companies already build the rockets, satellites, and manned space stations, why is it they are so “far from ready” to build a new space capsule? In fact, Lockheed was already working on a cheaper version of NASA’s Orion (“Orion Lite”) specifically for space commerce, in support of Bigelow’s space hotel venture. (Bigelow has already launched two prototypes into orbit.) SpaceDev (now Sierra Nevada) has also been working on a commercial space taxi, called DreamChaser (derived from a 1990’s NASA lifting body, the HL-20.) Boeing is dusting off its losing bid for NASA’s Orion, and has teamed with Bigelow to build it. And of course, we heard for years how private enterprise could never match NASA, how they couldn’t possibly put people in space on a fraction of NASA’s budget. That was, until Burt Rutan did it with SpaceShipOne. Yes, that was just suborbital, but even that was scoffed at by critics even as late as one year before SS1 flew. Now the naysayers are back again, scoffing at the notion of private industry sending astronauts to the Space Station.
Does private industry have a lot to prove? Sure. Should we give them the chance? Absolutely. That’s the American Way ™. It wasn’t a big government organization that truly opened the American West, it was largely the commercial railroads, operating with government contracts. It wasn’t big government institutions that invented the airplane, it was two brothers in a bicycle shop (the government money was behind another man, Langley, who failed.) It wasn’t a big government bureaucracy that created the airline industry, it was the Post Office signing contracts with private companies for air mail deliveriy. And a weak economy is no justification for giving up. In the height of the Great Depression, Douglas Aircraft designed, built, and sold the DC-3, perhaps the greatest airplane ever built, and one that decidely changed history.
If five to ten years from now, all the private efforts have failed, we can always go back to the Big Government Program method and build a new Saturn V-class rocket and a bigger and better version of Apollo. The Moon and Mars will still be there. Maybe China will be there waiting for us on the Moon, but at the rate they’re advancing (one manned flight every three years or so) I doubt it.
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 the bad thing about government contracts…they almost always tend to go overbudget and overtime. I’m also not really convinced that the commercial companies will have any easier of a time building a spacecraft to meet NASA’s needs, as NASA’s requirements change with every Administration change.
While the idea of an international space agency is appealing to the visions of the Star Trek future, it’s really not that feasible. First off, as some have already pointed out, humans have this nasty habit of wanting to kill each other, which means any International Space Agency would be hamstringed from the get go by “security concerns” that not so nice nations would be using the agency primarily to do research for ballistic missiles.
What I find truly laughable, are the folks that are cheering the “fiscal responsiblity” shown by essentially terminating manned spaceflight, and thinking that now all that money will go to robotic unmanned missions to the planets. Mark my words, I would wager in 10 years there will be no more NASA…it’s Aerospace research duties taken over by DARPA, it’s exploratory programs farmed out to the universities, who will probably not be launching any robotic missions, and it’s climate monitoring studies will be shifted to NOAA and that will then be made a division of the EPA.
If the government wanted to impress me with “fiscal responsibility” they would have started with terminating their own pay…seeing as the whole lot of those politicians make more than enough money without needing their “paychecks”.
43. boborci: “No need fora public space program when the secret one is doing just fine!;)”
Release the UFO technology!
“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 Cape being prepared for first flight in a month or two. Who is NASA depending on to deliver supplies to the Space Station after the Shuttle retires? Not a big government “Shuttle II”, they’re paying SpaceX and OSC to do it.”
I agree that private enterprise has the expertise to build the hardware. However, private enterprise doesn’t have the will to build the hardware needed for the most ambitious goals of human spaceflight.
Nor is private enterprise infallible. Far from it. You mention Boeing. Boeing is more than two years behind on the Dreamliner. After making promise after promise, Boeing may have to pay billions in “make good” or compensatory payments as a result of numerous delays.
Boeing has also apparently made the wrong call on the Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental, whose orders lag far behind the Airbus 380.
Cumulatively, this is a mistake that may cost Boeing tens of billions of dollars in lost sales.
May I remind everyone, as well, that Boeing is a monopoly in the manufacture of large commercial airliners in the United States, having opportunistically assimilated its last remaining rival, McDonnell Douglas, some time ago.
Boeing is now falling behind Airbus, the European consortium, which until the last decade was a distant second in orders and manufacturing of commercial airliners. Boeing has fallen from first to second place in this, its cardinal area of expertise.
Defense manufacturers such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin (the largest defense company in the world) have incurred billions in cost overruns over the years. Lockheed Martin’s F-35 is widely derided as overbudget and underperformance. Even the F-22 Raptor, easily the best fighter aircraft in the world, was terminated by the Obama Administration partly on the basis of cost.
As I think upon it, the so-called “efficiency” of private enterprise rarely fails to incur jocularity.
Prior to the Great Recession of this date, the vaunted greatness of Wall Street should have yielded similar mirth. Much to the detriment of the world, the joke that is Wall Street is now much more tragic than not.
Thank you Mr. President for advancing the destruction of our Space Program.
Bob — I’m fine with Section 31 doing all the work. But, I want Elvis back, OK?
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 agree on is the “need” for war. NASA will still have a space program, but only to repair satellites and to carry weapons into space. If the choice is between spending billions on space exploration or space weapons, then it comes down to what the politicians can sell to the public. And right now I’d bet a lot more people than not would prefer building more powerful weapons to keep them “safe” from countries like Iran, Pakistan and North Korea or to respond quickly if a country is attacked. It is the way it is. Unless it is for “national security” then I think the public will not support a space program. Which is a shame. There more to be gained from space exploration and knowledge than there is from war and destruction. Its simple logic. But the human race is not logical.