Wednesday, February 3, 2010

New Budget, New Direction, New Day

Here are the notes I took from Charlie Bolden's conference call announcing the new NASA budget:

Full budget:
http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/420990main_FY_201_%20Budget_Overview_1_Feb_2010.pdf
http://www.nasa.gov/news/budget/index.html

Summary:

*Constellation gets the axe, including Ares 1, Ares 5, and Orion.
*Shuttle retired by the end of the year or first quarter of 2011.
*Commercial launch will be used to resupply and re-crew ISS. Focus on creating a commercial crew transport industry to and through LEO. New awards to be announced tomorrow. Existing and new launch vehicles will be used.
*ISS research capability will be fully utilized. ISS extended to 2020 and utilized as a commercial market for research and development.
*Move from focusing on destinations to a focus on building new capabilities via flagship missions and technologies.

Over the next 5 years
*7.8 billion towards large scale, new approaches to space flight including on-orbit refueling.
*3.1 billion for new heavy lift and propulsion research to go beyond LEO. This will be under the exploration directorate and will focus on next generation technologies, not apollo era launch technologies. This begins in 2011 as opposed to Constellation's investment in heavy lift beginning in 2016.
*4.9 billion for broad technology investment programs for game changing technologies using prizes and innovative funding mechanisms.
*3 billion for robotic precursor missions.
*2 billion dollars for new earth science missions.
*70 million for new aeronautics programs.

You can listen to a recording of the above conference (you really should). Call:
866-431-2903 or 203-369-0952

-end-

You can find out more about some of the new "game changing technologies" funding from the notes on the Commercial Spaceflight Federation's conference call over at this post on hobbyspace.


To be frank:

I welcome the new budget. NASA was badly in need of reform, constellation was behind, we wasted 9 billion on Ares 1 when we already have a Delta 4 capable of putting up slightly less, and an Atlas 5 capable of putting up slightly more than the same vehicle. Now we're finding out that we may be able to man rate these vehicles for as little as 6.7 million (not billion, million) as opposed to the estimated 15 BILLION required to get Constellation back on track. We will finally have commercial crew transfer to LEO, and I view that as being more valuable than more massively over budget NASA pork that was eventually going to get the axe anyways and leave us right back where we started. We had the opportunity to go for maximum return on investment, and the administration went for it.

As for losing the HLV, so what? It was unlikely to ever be commercially available anyways. In fact, it was unlikely to ever be built at all. Not only did NASA specify different sized solid rocket boosters, but they specified a different diameter tank that throws shuttle hardware heritage right out the window. All of that tooling we had for the space shuttle external tank that was supposed to keep costs down became worthless in a single blow. It was a program begging to be canceled and was unlikely to survive this president or the next. That part makes me sad, but I had already given it up for dead. I think of it as a concept drawing designed to carry maximum cargo directly into the garbage.

Now we have these commercial companies with vehicles more likely to put "people" into space than NASA rockets. By people I mean you, me, businessmen, academics, even my daughter. My daughter now has the chance to get "out there" that she would never receive under yet another NASA program designed to put a select cadre of astronauts into space. She actually has something to dream for that is far more inspiring than anything NASA has offered me in all of my time on this earth. There is finally the opportunity for growing commercial activity in LEO and (with the infrastructure proposed in this budget) beyond.

I've heard plenty of arguments over the past couple of days regarding NASA. The opposing arguments can be summed up in the following categories:

*Jobs.
My retort: The problem with NASA is that it is TREATED AS A JOBS PROGRAM. You don't get a good program by creating make-work. You get it by producing maximum capability for minimum cost. It's called efficiency. If you're putting jobs above progress as a space fairing civilization, then you're hanging out in the wrong crowd. The two are not mutually inclusive. If you want to create jobs then I suggest finding another economic sector where you can pay people to stand around in a circle and yank their poles. There are plenty of others that are far less likely to be cut than our floundering space agency.

*The end of human spaceflight at NASA.
I only need to point out that this is an outright lie.

*The end of US leadership in space.
Being a geopolitical playboy is not making progress towards becoming a space fairing civilization or towards the development of the moon. This is called Flags and Footprints. You plant your flags, you leave your footprints, then your program gets canceled because it was never designed to have any real world applications outside of an international pissing contest. The Russians required that their vehicles have a useful purpose beyond prestige that would justify the cost. Those vehicles are still flying FORTY FOUR years later. If your definition of "leadership" amounts to pizazz and flare, then we'll be losing it. If your definition of leadership means sustainability, justifiable budgets, maximum capability for minimum cost, and actual usefulness then we lost our leadership forty four years ago and are finally moving towards taking it back.

*General outrage and crushed dreams.
My retort: If you can't articulate a proper argument, you end up looking foolish. I saw one guy talk about moving to China, and the next day he was contemplating suicide. For god's sake people, get a grip. If you hedge your dreams on anything funded by congress you are asking to get the rug pulled out from under you.

Take a moment to look at the Purpose section on MoonSociety.org

"The objectives of this Society shall be, but are not limited to:

* The creation of a space-faring civilization which will establish communities on the Moon; promotion of large-scale industrialization and private enterprise on the Moon;"

Very first bullet. It was not, nor was it ever, the job of NASA to advance us towards a space fairing civilization, establish communities on the moon, industrialization on the moon, or private enterprise on the moon. NASA is a geopolitical tool. Remember that. Only now is that tool being used in a way that might actually open up space development and make such a civilization possible. We're looking at a return to the days of NACA, and this has been long, long overdue.

[update]
Apparently the blogosphere is alive with this topic. I should check it more often.
Rand Simberg has some good commentary with a variety of links to other analysis.
[update]
Al Globus comments on Obama's space policy with far more tact than I can muster.

1 comment:

RB said...

I don't know what happened that makes us so less capable of building an HLV on time and within budget than we were in the 1960s, but obviously something did.

That aside, I agree with your points. It makes more sense for the gov't to hire space truckers than to build its own fleet.