NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope is back in business (Video) — Ex-NASA chief Griffin calls Augustine panel “irresponsible” — Griffin’s Augustine Email — Executive SUMMARY REPORT of the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee — Executive SUMMARY OF KEY FINDINGS — NASA’s future gets bleaker: Obama faced with manned-space dilemma — NASA needs stability and resources — NASA | Sentinels of the Heliosphere (Video)


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Blast … star bursts into life in the Carina Nebula

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope is back in business, ready to uncover new worlds, peer ever deeper into space, and even map the invisible backbone of the universe. The first snapshots from the refurbished Hubbleshowcase the 19-year-old telescope’s new vision. Topping the list of exciting new views are colorful multi-wavelength pictures of far-flung galaxies, a densely packed star cluster, an eerie “pillar of creation,” and a “butterfly” nebula.

With its new imaging camera, Hubble can view galaxies, star clusters, and other objects across a wide swath of the electromagnetic spectrum, from ultraviolet to near-infrared light. A new spectrograph slices across billions of light-years to map the filamentary structure of the universe and trace the distribution of elements that are fundamental to life. The telescope’s new instruments also are more sensitive to light and can observe in ways that are significantly more efficient and require less observing time than previous generations of Hubble instruments. NASA astronauts installed the new instruments during the space shuttle servicing mission in May 2009… HubbleSite



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Whirl of fortune … snap of a distant galaxy


Ex-NASA chief Griffin calls Augustine panel “irresponsible”

By Robert Block on Sep 10, 2009

CAPE CANAVERAL – Former NASA Administrator Michael Griffin apparently has sent a scathing memo to friends and supporters in Washington, lashing out at the work of the presidential committee reviewing NASA’s human space flight plans and calling some of its recommendations  “irresponsible.”

In the 11-point email sent out Wednesday and made available to the Orlando Sentinel today, Griffin — the intellectual architect and champion of NASA’s Constellation Program of Ares rockets and Orion capsules — accused the committee of doing shoddy work and failing to make clear why Constellation isn’t viable and why the Ares I is a failed rocket.

The committee released an executive summary of its report on Tuesday in which it said NASA lacked the money to undertake a viable human space exploration program. The report was also critical of the Constellation program, offering the White House other options and urging that NASA rely on commercial space companies to design ships to ferry astronauts to the international space station rather than have NASA build a new rocket for the task.

Griffin was unavailable to comment on the email. But in it he stops just short at points of calling the committee liars or accusing it of calling NASA liars.

The committee said in its public hearings last month that meeting Constellation’s objective of launching astronauts on Ares I and Orion to the international space station in 2015 and returning astronauts to the moon in 2020 would cost $50 billion more than the current budget of $81.5 billion.

But Griffin attacked the committee’s numbers, calling them “low-fidelity estimates developed over a matter of weeks” offered as a correction to NASA’s budget work developed over years.

“If the Commission believes that NASA is not properly estimating costs, or is misrepresenting the data it has amassed, it should document its specific concerns. Otherwise, the provenance of NASA’s cost estimates should be accepted, as no evidence has been supplied to justify overturning them,” he wrote.

Interestingly, Griffin — who as administrator started NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services to coordinate the commercial delivery of crew and cargo to the International Space Station — saved his most barbed remarks for the committee’s support for the commercial space sector.

“What commercial sector?” Griffin asked. “At present, the only clearly available ‘commercial’ option is [France’s] Ariane 5.  Launching a redesigned Orion crew vehicle is a valid choice in the context of an international program if – and only if – the U.S. is willing to give up independent access to low Earth orbit, a decision imbued with enormous future consequences. “

He adds: “With an appropriately enlightened [U.S. government] policy there may one day be a domestic commercial space transportation sector, but it does not presently exist and will not exist in the near future; i.e., substantially prior to the likely completion dates for Ares-1/Orion, if they were properly funded.… To hold the support and utilization of the [space station] hostage to the emergence of a commercial space sector is not ‘risky’ [as the commission acknowledges], it is irresponsible. “

Orion and Ares are supposed to have their first launch to the space station in 2015, but the committee, headed by former Lockheed Marin CEO Norm Augustine, said that the real date was more likely to be 2017 because of technological challenges and funding shortfalls.

Griffin wrote that he was confused by several of the report’s conclusions, especially about Ares I and Constellation.

“’Technical problems’ with Ares-1 are cited several times, without any acknowledgement that (a) knowledgeable observers in NASA would disagree strongly as to the severity of such problems, and (b) Constellation’s ‘technical problems’ are on display because actual work is being accomplished,” he wrote.

He also wondered, if the committee found that underfunding of NASA was the main issue dogging the agency and there is not “any evidence of substandard execution” of the Constellation  program, why the panel failed to recommend giving the program more money to do the job.

“Finally, the Commission did not do that which would have been most valuable – rendering a clear-eyed, independent assessment of the progress and status of Constellation with respect to its ability to meet goals which have been established in two successive NASA Authorization Acts, followed by an assessment of what would be required to get and keep that program on track,” he wrote.

“Instead, the Commission sought to formulate new options for new programs, treating these options as if their level of maturity was comparable to that of the baseline upon which NASA has been working now for more than four years.”

The White House, which is waiting for the panel to deliver its full report later this month, has said that it won’t make a final decision on NASA’s human spaceflight plans until it has fully digested the committee’s findings. Until then, it is not commenting.

But the committee’s work is already generating some heat. The summary’s tepid criticism of Constellation has been picked up on by at least one lawmaker: U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, an Arizona Democrat, wife of astronaut Mark Kelly and the chairwoman of the House subcommittee charged with oversight of NASA.

In a press statement released on Wednesday, Giffords raised concerns similar to Griffin’s.

“Continued underfunding of NASA risks the good work being done by the Constellation Program, which includes vehicles capable of launching astronauts to low-Earth orbit and to the Moon. This is unfortunate, particularly because the Augustine panel found no significant technical problems with the Constellation Program,” she said.

Clearly the battle lines in the looming fight over the future of human space flight at NASA are being drawn.


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What a gas … Cat’s Eye stares across space


Griffin’s Augustine Email

From: “Michael D. Griffin”

To: XXXXXXXXXX

1)       It is clarifying to see a formal recognition by the Commission that, based upon budgetary considerations, “the human spaceflight program appears to be on an unsustainable trajectory”.  Given that the Constellation program was designed in accordance with the budget profile specified in 2005, yet has since suffered some $30 billion of reductions to the amount allocated to human lunar return (including almost $12 billion in just the last five fiscal years) this is an unsurprising conclusion, but one which provides the necessary grounding for all subsequent discussions.

2)      Since NASA’s budget as outlined in 2005 was hardly one of rampant growth (only a slight increase above inflation was projected even then), and since the Commission did not report any evidence of substandard execution of the Program of Record – Constellation – one wonders why the Commission failed to recommend as its favored option that of simply restoring the funding necessary to do the job that has, since 2005, been codified in two strongly bi-partisan Congressional Authorization Acts.

Of all the options considered, this is the most straightforward, yet it was not recommended.  The so-called “less constrained” options merely provide partial restoration of budget authority that was removed within just the last few years.  The most obvious conclusion to be drawn from the Commission’ report is this:  put it back.

3)      The continual reference to the supposedly planned cancellation and deorbiting of ISS in 2016 is a strawman, irrelevant to consideration of serious programmatic options.  While it is certainly true that Bush Administration budgets did not show any funding for ISS past 2015, it was always quite clear that the decision to cancel or fund the ISS in 2016 and beyond was never within the purview of the Bush Administration to make.

In the face of strong International Partner commitment to ISS and two decades of steadfast Congressional commitment to the development, assembly, and utilization of ISS, it has never been and is not now realistic to consider cancellation and deorbiting of ISS in 2015, or indeed on any particular date which can be known today.  The fact that some $3+ billion per year will be required to sustain ISS operations past 2015 is, and has always been, a glaring omission in future budget projections.

Sustained funding of the ISS as long as it continues to return value – certainly to 2020 and quite likely beyond – should have been established by the Commission as a non-negotiable point of departure for all other discussions.  Failure to do so, when the implications of prematurely canceling ISS are well known to all, is disingenuous.  The existence of future exploration programs cannot be traded against sustenance of the ISS on an “either-or” basis, as if the latter option was a realistic option.

If the nation is to lay claim to a viable human spaceflight program, the requirement to sustain ISS while also developing new systems to go beyond low Earth orbit is the minimally necessary standard.  If the nation can no longer meet this standard, then it should be so stated, in which case any further discussion of U.S. human exploration beyond LEO is moot for the next two decades.

4)    Numerous options are presented which are not linked by common goals or a strategy to reach such goals.  Instead, differing options are presented to reach differing goals, rendering it impossible to develop meaningful cost/schedule/performance/risk comparisons across them.  These options possess vastly differing levels of maturity, yet are offered as if all were on an equally mature footing in regard to their level of technical, cost, schedule, and risk assessment. This is not the case.

5)      “Independent” cost estimates for Constellation systems are cited. There is no acknowledgement that these are low-fidelity estimates developed over a matter of weeks, yet are offered as corrections to NASA’s cost estimates, which have years of effort behind them. No mention is made of NASA’s commitment to probabilistic budget estimation techniques for Constellation, at significantly higher cost-confidence levels than has been the case in the past.  If the Commission believes that NASA is not properly estimating costs, or is misrepresenting the data it has amassed, it should document its specific concerns. Otherwise, the provenance of NASA’s cost estimates should be accepted, as no evidence has been supplied to justify overturning them.

6)      The preference for “commercial” options for cargo and, worse, crew delivery to low Earth orbit appears throughout the Summary, together with the statement that “it is an appropriate time to consider turning this transport service over to the commercial sector.”  What commercial sector?  At present, the only clearly available “commercial” option is Ariane 5.  Launching a redesigned Orion crew vehicle is a valid choice in the context of an international program if – and only if – the U.S. is willing to give up independent access to low Earth orbit, a decision imbued with enormous future consequences.

With an appropriately enlightened USG policy there may one day be a domestic commercial space transportation sector, but it does not presently exist and will not exist in the near future; i.e., substantially prior to the likely completion dates for Ares-1/Orion, if they were properly funded.  The existence of a prudently funded USG option for cargo/crew delivery to ISS is precisely the strategy which allows the USG to take reasonable risks to sponsor the development of a viable commercial space sector.

The Commission acknowledges the “risk” associated with its recommendation, but is not clear about the nature of that risk.  If no USG option to deliver cargo and crew to LEO is to be developed following the retirement of the Space Shuttle, the U.S. risks the failure to sustain and utilize a unique facility with a sunk cost of $55 billion on the U.S. side, and nearly $20 billion of international partner investment in addition.

The Russian Soyuz and Progress systems, even if we are willing to pay whatever is required to use them in the interim, simply do not provide sufficient capability to utilize ISS as was intended, and in any case represent a single point failure in regard to such utilization.  To hold the support and utilization of the ISS hostage to the emergence of a commercial space sector is not “risky”, it is irresponsible.

7)      The Commission is disingenuous when it claims that safety “is not discussed in extensive detail because any concepts falling short in human safety have simply been eliminated from consideration.”  Similarly, the Commission was “unconvinced that enough is known about any of the potential high-reliability launcher-plus-capsule systems to distinguish their levels of safety in a meaningful way.”  For the Commission to dismiss out of hand the extensive analytical work that has been done to assure that Constellation systems represent the safest reasonable approach in comparison to all other presently known systems is simply unacceptable.

Work of high quality in the assessment of safety and reliability has been done, and useful discriminators between and among systems do exist, whether the Commission believes so or not.  To this point, the Commission’s report is confusing as regards the distinction between “reliability” and “safety”, where the issue is discussed at all.  The former is the only criterion of interest for unmanned systems; for manned systems, there is an important difference due to the existence of an abort system and the conditions under which that abort system can and must operate.  Nowhere is this crucial distinction discussed.

8)   “Technical problems” with Ares-1 are cited several times, without any acknowledgement that (a) knowledgeable observers in NASA would disagree strongly as to the severity of such problems, and (b) Constellation’s “technical problems” are on display because actual work is being accomplished, whereas other options have no problems because no work is being done.

9)   The recommendation in favor of the dual-launch “Ares-5 Lite” approach as the baseline for lunar missions is difficult to understand.  It violates the CAIB recommendation (and many similar recommendations) to separate crew and cargo in whatever post-Shuttle human space transportation system is to be developed.  Further, the dual-Ares-5 Lite mission architecture substantially increases the minimum cost for a single lunar mission as compared to the Ares-1/Ares-5 approach, a recommendation which is difficult to understand in an already difficult budgetary environment.

Finally, the Ares-5 Lite is nearly as expensive to develop as the Ares-5, but offers significantly less payload to the moon when used — as will be required — in a one-way, single-launch, cargo-only mode.  (The LEO payload difference of 140 mt for Ares-5 Lite and 160 mt for Ares-5 masks a much greater difference in their lunar payload capability.)

All parties agree that a heavy-lift launcher is needed for any human space program beyond LEO.  Because of the economies of scale inherent to the design of launch vehicles, such a vehicle should be designed to lift as large a payload as possible within the constraints of the facilities and infrastructure available to build and transport it.  This provides the greatest marginal improvement in capability at the lowest marginal cost.

10)   The use of “fuel depots” as recommended in the Summary appears to be a solution in search of a problem.  It is difficult to understand how such an approach can offer an economically favorable alternative.  The Ares-5 offers the lowest cost-per-pound for payload to orbit of any presently known heavy-lift launch vehicle design.  The mass-specific cost of payload to orbit nearly always improves with increasing launch vehicle scale.

The recommendation in favor of an architectural approach based upon the use of many smaller vehicles to resupply a fuel depot ignores this fact, as well as the fact that a fuel depot requires a presently non-existent technology – the ability to provide closed-cycle refrigeration to maintain cryogenic fuels in the necessary thermodynamic state in space.  This technology is a holy grail of deep-space exploration, because it is necessary for both chemical- and nuclear-powered upper stages.  To establish an architecture based upon a non-existent technology at the very beginning of beyond-LEO operations is unwise.

11)   Finally, the Commission did not do that which would have been most valuable – rendering a clear-eyed, independent assessment of the progress and status of Constellation with respect to its ability to meet goals which have been established in two successive NASA Authorization Acts, followed by an assessment of what would be required to get and keep that program on track.  Instead, the Commission sought to formulate new options for new programs, treating these options as if their level of maturity was comparable to that of the baseline upon which NASA has been working now for more than four years.

This approach completely ignores the established body of law which has guided NASA’s work for the last four years and which, until and unless that body of law is changed, must serve as the common reference standard for any proposed alternatives to Constellation as the program of record for the nation’s existing human spaceflight program.

Griffin’s Augustine Email


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Warped … arcs and streaks of distorted galaxies


Executive SUMMARY REPORT

of the

Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee

The U.S. human spaceflight program appears to be on an unsustainable trajectory. It is perpetuating the perilous practice of pursuing goals that do not match allocated resources. Space operations are among the most complex and unforgiving pursuits ever undertaken by humans. It really is rocket science. Space operations become all the more difficult when means do not match aspirations. Such is the case today.

The nation is facing important decisions on the future of human spaceflight. Will we leave the close proximity of low-Earth orbit, where astronauts have circled since 1972, and explore the solar system, charting a path for the eventual expansion of human civilization into space? If so, how will we ensure that our exploration delivers the greatest benefit to the nation? Can we explore with reasonable assurances of human safety? And, can the nation marshal the resources to embark on the mission?

Whatever space program is ultimately selected, it must be matched with the resources needed for its execution. How can we marshal the necessary resources? There are actually more options available today than in 1961 when President Kennedy challenged NASA and the nation to “land a man on the Moon by the end of the decade.”

First, space exploration has become a global enterprise. Many nations have aspirations in space, and the combined annual budgets of their space programs are comparable to NASA’s. If the United States is willing to lead a global program of exploration, sharing both the burden and benefit of space exploration in a meaningful way, significant benefits could follow. Actively engaging international partners in a manner adapted to today’s multi-polar world could strengthen geopolitical relationships, leverage global resources, and enhance the exploration enterprise.

Second, there is now a burgeoning commercial space industry. If we craft the space architecture to provide opportunities to this industry, there is the potential—not without risk—that the costs to the government would be reduced. Finally, we are also more experienced than in 1961, and able to build on that experience as we design an exploration program. If, after designing cleverly, building alliances with partners, and engaging commercial providers, the nation cannot afford to fund the effort to pursue the goals it would like to embrace, it should accept the disappointment of setting lesser goals.

Can we explore with reasonable assurances of human safety? Human space travel has many benefits, but it is an inherently dangerous endeavor. Human safety can never be absolutely assured, but throughout this report, it is treated as a sine qua non. It is not discussed in extensive detail because any concepts falling short in human safety have simply been eliminated from consideration.

How will we explore to deliver the greatest benefit to the nation? Planning for a human spaceflight program should begin with a choice about its goals—rather than a choice of possible destinations. Destinations should derive from goals, and alternative architectures may be weighed against those goals. There is now a strong consensus in the United States that the next step in human spaceflight is to travel beyond low-Earth orbit.

This should carry important benefits to society, including: driving technological innovation; developing commercial industries and important national capabilities; and contributing to our expertise in further exploration. Human exploration can contribute appropriately to the expansion of scientific knowledge, particularly in areas such as field geology, and it is in the interest of both science and human spaceflight that a credible and well-rationalized strategy of coordination between them be developed.

Crucially, human spaceflight objectives should broadly align with key national objectives.  These more tangible benefits exist within a larger context. Exploration provides an opportunity to demonstrate space leadership while deeply engaging international partners; to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers; and to shape human perceptions of our place in the universe. The Committee concluded that the ultimate goal of human exploration is to chart a path for human expansion into the solar system. This is an ambitious goal, but one worthy of U.S.  leadership in concert with a broad range of international partners…

Key Questions to Guide the Plan for Human Spaceflight

The Committee identified the following questions that, if answered, would form the basis of a plan for U.S. human spaceflight:

1.  What should be the future of the Space Shuttle?

2.  What should be the future of the International Space Station (ISS)?

3.  On what should the next heavy-lift launch vehicle be based?

4.  How should crews be carried to low-Earth orbit?

5.  What is the most practicable strategy for exploration beyond low-Earth orbit?

The Committee considers the framing and answering of these questions individually, and in a consistent way, to be at least as important as their combinations in the integrated options for a human spaceflight program.

See Complete PDF Report: Executive SUMMARY REPORT of the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee


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Hum-winger … streams of pink and red gas look like fragile insect wings


Executive SUMMARY OF KEY FINDINGS

The Committee summarizes its key findings below. Additional findings are included in the body of the report.

The right mission and the right size: NASA’s budget should match its mission and goals.  Further, NASA should be given the ability to shape its organization and infrastructure accordingly, while maintaining facilities deemed to be of national importance.

International partnerships: The U.S. can lead a bold new international effort in the human exploration of space. If international partners are actively engaged, including on the “critical path” to success, there could be substantial benefits to foreign relations, and more resources overall could become available.

Short-term Space Shuttle planning: The current Shuttle manifest should be flown in a safe and prudent manner. The current manifest will likely extend to the second quarter of FY 2011. It is important to budget for this likelihood.

The human-spaceflight gap: Under current conditions, the gap in U.S. ability to launch astronauts into space will stretch to at least seven years. The Committee did not identify any credible approach employing new capabilities that could shorten the gap to less than six years. The only way to significantly close the gap is to extend the life of the Shuttle Program.

Extending the International Space Station: The return on investment to both the United States and our international partners would be significantly enhanced by an extension of ISS life. Not to extend its operation would significantly impair U.S. ability to develop and lead future international spaceflight partnerships.

Heavy-lift: A heavy-lift launch capability to low-Earth orbit, combined with the ability to inject heavy payloads away from the Earth, is beneficial to exploration, and it also will be useful to the national security space and scientific communities. The Committee reviewed: the Ares family of launchers; more directly Shuttle-derived vehicles; and launchers derived from the EELV family.  Each approach has advantages and disadvantages, trading capability, lifecycle costs, operational complexity and the “way of doing business” within the program and NASA.

Commercial crew launch to low-Earth orbit: Commercial services to deliver crew to low-Earth orbit are within reach. While this presents some risk, it could provide an earlier capability at lower initial and lifecycle costs than government could achieve. A new competition with adequate incentives should be open to all U.S. aerospace companies. This would allow NASA to focus on more challenging roles, including human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit, based on the continued development of the current or modified Orion spacecraft.

Technology development for exploration and commercial space: Investment in a well-designed: and adequately funded space technology program is critical to enable progress in exploration.  Exploration strategies can proceed more readily and economically if the requisite technology has been developed in advance. This investment will also benefit robotic exploration, the U.S. commercial space industry and other U.S. government users.

Pathways to Mars: Mars is the ultimate destination for human exploration; but it is not the best first destination. Both visiting the Moon First and following the Flexible Path are viable exploration strategies. The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive; before traveling to Mars, we might be well served to both extend our presence in free space and gain experience working on the lunar surface.

Options for the Human Spaceflight Program: The Committee developed five alternatives for the Human Spaceflight Program. It found:

  • Human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit is not viable under the FY 2010 budget guideline.
  • Meaningful human exploration is possible under a less constrained budget, ramping to approximately $3 billion per year above the FY 2010 guidance in total resources.
  • Funding at the increased level would allow either an exploration program to explore Moon First or one that follows a Flexible Path of exploration. Either could produce results in a reasonable timeframe.

See Complete PDF Report: Executive SUMMARY REPORT of the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee


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Starry skies … the massive globular cluster Omega Centauri


WASHINGTON – When President Barack Obama named a panel to review NASA‘s manned-space program, his aides said privately they were hoping the group would recommend scrapping NASA’s troubled Ares I rocket program and finding another, cheaper way to get humans back to the moon.

But the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee came to a troubling conclusion this week: NASA’s current budget offers no hope of sending humans past the international space station for 20 years or more.

And that confronts the administration with an enormous dilemma: how, in an era of trillion-dollar deficits, to find money to reinvigorate human space exploration and avoid pulling the plug on a program that just celebrated the 40th anniversary of its first lunar landing.

“The public was promised a Cadillac, or at least a Buick,” said one administration science official not authorized to speak for the White House. “There is some concern that we could end up with an Edsel.”

Shaping the future of America’s space program began Friday, when members of the committee presented their preliminary findings to NASA chief Charlie Bolden and White House officials. Initial reports indicated the group agreed to retire the space shuttle in 2011, extend the space station until 2020 and use more commercial rockets. They also liked the idea of exploring deep space — rather than landing on the moon.

On Wednesday, the panel said that Constellation, NASA’s current back-to-the-moon program, is running $50 billion over the current budget through 2020. But the alternatives presented Friday are almost as expensive, requiring $20-to-$30 billion more than the current budget through 2020.

The outcome was not entirely unexpected.

Even before Obama took office, officials had serious doubts about Constellation, particularly its Ares I rocket, which is expected to shake violently as it climbs through the atmosphere.

They especially questioned a rocket designed in part to bring crew to the space station that wouldn’t be ready until 2015 — the same year the complex was supposed to be abandoned.

“I might not have a technical background, but I can read budget and schedule charts and I can tell you that there are things that don’t make sense,” Alan Ladwig, now a presidentially appointed policy adviser at NASA, told Florida space boosters last December.

But Obama officials were reluctant to kill the Constellation program by decree. They preferred that an independent panel come to what they saw as the only logical conclusion: that Ares I was, as one put it, “infeasible.”

But they didn’t expect that NASA’s budget would leave no room for another rocket capable of flying beyond the space station.

Even the panel members themselves were surprised.

Norm Augustine, the retired Lockheed Martin CEO who leads the 10-member panel, said he was shocked at its inability to find an option that would fit within NASA’s current manned-space budget that the committee put at roughly $100 billion through 2020.

“I certainly didn’t think it would miss by as much as it did,” Augustine said. “One of the things that have troubled NASA the most in recent years is having objectives that they don’t the resources to match.”

That leaves the White House with a tough decision: back billions more for human space exploration, or support an emasculated program that critics will call pointless.

It is up to Obama, says Marcia Smith, formerly a space expert at the Congressional Research Service and now a consultant, to decide whether human space exploration is a worthy priority or an unaffordable luxury.

“Giving NASA a couple more billion dollars a year for the next 20 years isn’t really going to affect the deficit that much, considering how huge the deficit is,” Smith said. “So it’s a matter of presidential policy and what Obama wants to do.”

Committee members are trying to find ways to reduce the costs of some of their options to make them more palatable. But the most likely option would be a new rocket designed and operated by a commercial company and purchased by the agency – a dramatic break from current practices where NASA designs and “owns” its rockets.

And Congress might not go along because that would harm the contractors now working on the program.

What’s more, any of the committee’s options would devastate Florida’s Space Coast, which faces an estimated 7,000 job losses at Kennedy Space Center when NASA retires the space shuttle. That in turn could trigger the loss of 21,000 more jobs outside KSC.

If the shuttle is retired in 2011, as now seems likely, it will be years before a new manned-space rocket brings even some of those jobs back.

“We need to see what the final outcome is,” said Lynda Weatherman, CEO of the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast. “Right now our strategy is to try to find work that supports a lunar mission. If it’s not lunar, then it will be something else. There will be work from whatever they come out with. We just have to be smart enough to take advantage.”

But, she added, “It’s going to be a tough period.”

For NASA allies on Capitol Hill, news that the agency does not have enough money to do what it wants is not so shocking. For years, members of congressional science committees have complained about underfunding.

But in a time of enormous budget deficits, a major boost is seen as unlikely.

“NASA is getting $18 billion a year. That’s more than all the other [space] agencies in the world combined. It’s very difficult to make the argument for more money,” said Vincent Sabathier, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.

Sabathier said NASA’s best hope lies in giving a greater role to its international partners to develop key components of an exploration system, such as using a French rocket to launch a U.S. capsule.

“If you cannot find more money, you must work more closely with the international partners,” he said. “Obama can use space as a foreign policy tool, to rebuild its leadership in space.”


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Far, far away … group of five galaxies


The Hill – By Walter Alarkon 09/10/09 06:05 AM ET

A report suggesting that NASA’s space travel goals are too ambitious for its budget is imperiling efforts by Florida and Texas lawmakers to win more money for the agency’s budget.

The Human Space Flight Committee, which was created by President Barack Obama, said this week that NASA’s flight program is on an “unsustainable trajectory” due to its “pursuing goals that do not match allocated resources.”

Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), who sponsored the House appropriations bill calling for fewer 2010 NASA funds than the Obama administration requested, said the report confirms his concerns that “the emperor has no clothes.”

Mollohan echoed the committee in criticizing the approach to spaceflight for having a “disconnect between its means and ends,” suggesting that NASA must either find more funding or rein in its ambitions.

The panel, in the executive summary of a full report to come later, noted that NASA’s next-generation space travel vehicles won’t be ready until 2017, two years later than scheduled, and that the space agency should turn to private companies for missions that don’t venture beyond Earth’s low orbit.

If NASA wants to achieve its goals of sending humans to the moon and Mars, it needs $3 billion more annually, the panel said.
That would be a significant boost to NASA’s budget, expected to be less than $19 billion next year.

The report by the committee, led by former Lockheed Martin executive Norman Augustine, led to renewed calls to overhaul NASA’s approach.

Mollohan’s Commerce, Justice and Science 2010 spending bill set NASA’s budget at $18.2 billion — $650.6 million less than what NASA had requested.

Mollohan had said he would consider the higher funding level after the report’s release. He has called on NASA to more clearly spell out its plans for manned space missions.

The Senate, in its spending bill for NASA, set the agency’s funding at the higher, requested level of $18.7 billion. The House and Senate have yet to reconcile their bills’ differences in conference.

Mollohan said he looks forward to working with the Obama administration and his colleagues in Congress “as we determine the best way to align resources with NASA’s human spaceflight mission.”

A bipartisan group of about a dozen lawmakers from Texas and Florida, home to major spaceflight bases, have pressed for more NASA funding, arguing that it would have national security and economic benefits. They used the report’s findings to call on the administration to provide even more funding for the agency.

“It’s time to step up to the plate and give them what they need — $2 billion or $3 billion [a year],” said Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas), whose district includes the Johnson Space Center.

Augustine, whose former company is a leading aerospace contractor, will testify before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee with jurisdiction over NASA next week, according to the panel’s chairman, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.).

Nelson, whose state is home to the Kennedy Space Center, said that whether the space program will get funding to meet its goals will depend on the White House.

“There’s only one person who can lead the space program, and that’s the president,” Nelson said.


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NASA needs stability and resources

HOUSTON CHRONICLE

Aug. 29, 2009

As space shuttle astronauts, each of us has sat high atop a magnificent U.S.-built space ship loaded with 1.6 million pounds of liquid hydrogen and oxygen, waiting for the shuttle’s solid rocket motors and engines to ignite and propel us from zero to 17,500 miles per hour into orbit around the Earth. We understand the importance and significance of having a safe and well-funded space program, as we personally accepted the risk worth taking with every mission. With each flight, we entrusted our lives to experienced, innovative men and women on the ground, dedicated to our safety and passionately committed to our nation’s space program.

As America prepares to embark upon a new era of human space exploration, President Obama has commissioned a review of the nation’s human space flight plans. Known as the Augustine Committee, this panel has the important charter of evaluating the current NASA plan and offering options for the future. Its report is expected this week. We urge this panel, along with the president, Congress and the American people to consider that: Exploration must be recognized as a national imperative that sustains U.S. leadership in space; a significant increase in human space-flight safety should be accomplished under government leadership; we must leave low Earth orbit and explore destinations beyond; and sustaining robust funding and staying the course are imperative to implementing a safe, reliable and meaningful space exploration program worthy of our nation.

• •  Exploration is a national imperative. Over the past 50 years, our country has profoundly benefited from the space program in more ways than most people are even aware. In a recent report, the value of the world space economy is estimated at $250 billion. Many industries — telecommunications, agriculture, medicine, Earth observation, public health and safety, to name a few — have advanced and grown due to development of space technologies. Our aerospace industry is the envy of the world, employing 650,000 Americans in high-wage, high-skill jobs. It is one of the few industries that actually enjoys a trade surplus with our foreign competition. Every time NASA accomplishes a great achievement, the interest of our young people in pursuing a career in science and engineering spikes upward. When they graduate from college, not all will end up working in the space program, but many of them will join leading technology companies all over America.

We believe that America’s space exploration program has positively impacted the world perhaps more than any single national endeavor during the last half century. Our space leadership is a projection of this country’s technical capability leveraged to foster peaceful cooperation among nations in a politically uncertain world. Each of us has been part of this great space legacy — and continues to be committed to ensuring the safety, vitality, sustainability and excitement of the future space program. U.S. investment in space and technology generates tens of thousands of jobs, stimulates small businesses and entrepreneurship, drives innovation and inspires the next generation of engineers, scientists and explorers so critical to America’s future.

• •  Crew safety. Our top concern as the country moves forward in human space flight is to ensure the safest possible system is utilized and regulated through government leadership. This requires a proven track record, building on important lessons learned to ensure crew safety and mission success. NASA’s Constellation program is exactly that type of effort — infused with generational lessons learned, well planned and scrutinized by multiple stakeholders to provide a safe and reliable system for our nation.

New entrants to the aerospace community have been provided a pathway and government funding to pursue opportunities to support International Space Station operations — starting with cargo and possibly progressing to crew operations, if those companies successfully demonstrate vehicle performance and meet NASA’s crew safety requirements. This is a sensible, milestone-driven approach that ensures appropriate measures are being taken to protect our assets while allowing NASA to focus on its current program.

• •  Breaking the bonds of low Earth orbit after a four-decade hiatus. We recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of one of humankind’s greatest achievements — the landing of people on the surface of the moon. We are proud of our association with the space shuttle and space station, and are excited about NASA’s space exploration plans. Using the knowledge and heritage from previous human space flight programs, we must prepare for the next giant leap in space exploration. It is now time to move on and push the boundaries of human discovery beyond low Earth orbit to the moon, asteroids, Mars and beyond.

• •  Sustained robust funding is imperative. During Apollo, America allocated almost five percent of the federal budget to achieve President John F. Kennedy’s vision to land people on the moon and return them safely to Earth. Today, that number has dropped to only about half of one percent, while at the same time the range of space, science and aeronautics missions conducted by NASA is much more diverse than it was forty years ago. We are convinced that an increased investment today of only one tenth of one percent of the federal budget annually would support a healthy, safe exploration program as well as a robust science and aeronautic program ensuring U.S. leadership and opportunities for international collaboration.

Underfunding and start-stop investment practices during the past decade have undermined the cause of exploration, wasted resources and delayed the development of new systems. This has led to an overall strain on political support and public enthusiasm. We can do better as a nation and we must.

In conclusion, we stand united in our advocacy of a strong U.S. space exploration program that is fully funded, values and maintains safety, and pushes our horizons beyond low Earth orbit. To date, our space program has earned the support of the American public and our elected officials. What we need now is a stable policy and the resources necessary to create a future space program that truly reflects the pride and capabilities of our great nation.

NASA astronauts Jeff Ashby, Michael Bloomfield, Bob Crippen, Roger Crouch, Jan Davis, Brian Duffy, Jim Halsell, Steve Hawley, Rick Hieb, Scott “Doc” Horowitz, Bruce McCandless II, Don McMonagle, Pam Melroy, Charlie Precourt, Ken Reightler and Kent Rominger contributed to this article.


Related Links:

NASA: Thousands of New Images Show Mars in High Resolution

AFP: Indian satellite confirmed US moon landing: scientist

Space: NASA’s New Moonship Passes Review Amid Rocket Uncertainty & NASA Needs More Money to Hunt Killer Space Rocks, Report Says

Examiner: Can Ares 1 be saved?

SPACEREF: Ares Needs a Death Panel – Government Must Buy All Rides to Space Commercially


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SUMMARY OF KEY FINDINGS

The Committee summarizes its key findings below. Additional findings are included in the body of the report.

The right mission and the right size: NASA’s budget should match its mission and goals.  Further, NASA should be given the ability to shape its organization and infrastructure accordingly, while maintaining facilities deemed to be of national importance.

International partnerships: The U.S. can lead a bold new international effort in the human exploration of space. If international partners are actively engaged, including on the “critical path” to success, there could be substantial benefits to foreign relations, and more resources overall could become available.

Short-term Space Shuttle planning: The current Shuttle manifest should be flown in a safe and prudent manner. The current manifest will likely extend to the second quarter of FY 2011. It is important to budget for this likelihood.

The human-spaceflight gap: Under current conditions, the gap in U.S. ability to launch astronauts into space will stretch to at least seven years. The Committee did not identify any credible approach employing new capabilities that could shorten the gap to less than six years. The only way to significantly close the gap is to extend the life of the Shuttle Program.

Extending the International Space Station: The return on investment to both the United States and our international partners would be significantly enhanced by an extension of ISS life. Not to extend its operation would significantly impair U.S. ability to develop and lead future international spaceflight partnerships.

Heavy-lift: A heavy-lift launch capability to low-Earth orbit, combined with the ability to inject heavy payloads away from the Earth, is beneficial to exploration, and it also will be useful to the national security space and scientific communities. The Committee reviewed: the Ares family of launchers; more directly Shuttle-derived vehicles; and launchers derived from the EELV family.  Each approach has advantages and disadvantages, trading capability, lifecycle costs, operational complexity and the “way of doing business” within the program and NASA.

Commercial crew launch to low-Earth orbit: Commercial services to deliver crew to low-Earth orbit are within reach. While this presents some risk, it could provide an earlier capability at lower initial and lifecycle costs than government could achieve. A new competition with adequate incentives should be open to all U.S. aerospace companies. This would allow NASA to focus on more challenging roles, including human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit, based on the continued development of the current or modified Orion spacecraft.

Technology development for exploration and commercial space: Investment in a well-designed: and adequately funded space technology program is critical to enable progress in exploration.  Exploration strategies can proceed more readily and economically if the requisite technology has been developed in advance. This investment will also benefit robotic exploration, the U.S. commercial space industry and other U.S. government users.

Pathways to Mars: Mars is the ultimate destination for human exploration; but it is not the best first destination. Both visiting the Moon First and following the Flexible Path are viable exploration strategies. The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive; before traveling to Mars, we might be well served to both extend our presence in free space and gain experience working on the lunar surface.

Options for the Human Spaceflight Program: The Committee developed five alternatives for the Human Spaceflight Program. It found:

· Human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit is not viable under the FY 2010 budget guideline.

· Meaningful human exploration is possible under a less constrained budget, ramping to approximately $3 billion per year above the FY 2010 guidance in total resources.

· Funding at the increased level would allow either an exploration program to explore Moon First or one that follows a Flexible Path of exploration. Either could produce results in a reasonable timeframe.

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