Sunday, March 12, 2006

House Republican Study Committee Proposes Canceling Moon-Mars Initiative Once Again.

The ever more influential conservative Republican Study Committee introduced a proposed budget bill in the House recently. (Here.) As it did before, the RSC took aim at human exploration of space.

The RSC's proposed budget eliminates the Moon-Mars initiative. This is the RSC's summary of their proposal:
Cancel NASA’s Moon/Mars Exploration Initiative and Retire the Space Shuttle After Completion of the International Space Station. In 2004, the President announced a new initiative to explore the Moon and Mars with the goal of returning humans to the Moon by 2020. NASA currently intends to use the savings from phasing out the space shuttle in 2012 to fund this program. However, the proposed transition will take six more years, costing taxpayers money on administrative and program expenses associated with simultaneously operating both programs. This proposal would cancel the new mission and would retire the space shuttle after completion of the International Space Station. A similar proposal was included in the original budget resolution (H.Con.Res. 67) passed by the House of Representatives in 1995.
(PDF here, scroll to p. 15.)

The proposal seeks to save money on human space flight by not funding two different missions at the same time. Moreover, the proposal does not postpone the new mission, it cancels it.

This is just nonsense. Rather than scrapping the space shuttle now and focusing the money on developing America's next generation of space vehicles sooner rather than later, the RSC proposes the opposite. Stick with the old system that barely flies and is headed to scrap heap and get rid of the new systems.

We are especially pained by this because we tend to share the politics of the RSC. Yet fiscal conservatism can be shortsighted and foolish at times. It certainly is here. Human space exploration survived the RSC's assault last year. Since then Tom DeLay lost his leadership post, the President's influence waned even more than it had during his disastrous 2005, and there is a growing revolt by Congressional Republicans against the President's fiscal policies. It will be interesting to see how this all shakes out.

If we're lucky the Vision will keep its funding and servicing the ISS will fall to the private sector. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison suggested just that in remarks the other day as one of the options available to the US for finishing the ISS.
"The current plan is to terminate space shuttle flights in 2010. Our legislation initially prohibited a gap between the end of shuttle flights and the start of CEV operations."

"In the end, we compromised with a statement of policy that the US should maintain an uninterrupted capability for human space flight, and required NASA to inform the Congress, at least a year before the last scheduled shuttle flight, if a gap [between shuttle retirement and CEV flight] appeared likely and what steps they would take to fill it."

"In my view, the options they might have at that point, if necessary, could include extending shuttle flights beyond 2010, utilizing crew launch capabilities that might be developed by the private sector, or establishing agreements for the use of international partner crew launch capabilities."

"The NASA Authorization Act endorses and encourages the private sector involvement in space station crew and cargo support, and I am pleased to see NASA moving forward in its efforts to help spur that development."
(Here, emphasis added.)

Extending shuttle flights beyond 2010 would be risky and a huge waste of time and money. And for what? Not for exploring other worlds but merely to finish building a space station.

We rely on the Russians for ISS flights now. Continuing to rely on foreign governments is not much of an option given the current political climate that prevents even an ally from taking over management of certain port terminals in the United States. Nativism is metastasizing in the USA if even the diversity pimps in the Democratic Party are jumping on the America first bandwagon.

The better option is to leave the exploration missions alone and to get serious about developing private sector alternatives for lower Earth orbit. If talk alone could launch spacecraft there'd be fleets of ships in space now launched by the boasts of private space advocates. The time is now for the private space sector to match its rhetoric with deeds. This country needs their help.

-tdr

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Comments:
Funny how fiscal conservatism goes out the door when it comes to one's pet programs ("we tend to share the politics of the RSC").

The dirty little secret is CEV is not intended to go to the moon let alone mars. NASA's only concern is to build Shuttle II so the astronaut country club can stay in business. CEV will go back and forth to ISS and no further.

COTS will never succeed if CEV/Shuttle II is built. Only when NASA is FORCED to buy transportation from the private sector will they do so.
 
its not about keeping astronaut club in business, but keeping ATK Thiokol & friends in business
 
> Stick with the old system that barely flie

"Barely flies"? Apparently the writer is unaware that NASA's "vision" entails an even lower flgiht rate than past Shuttle flights.

Nor does NASA;s vision "scrap" the Shuttle as the writer states.

NASA plans to keep 2/3 of the Shuttle system -- Shuttle Solid Rocket Booster, whose failure caused the Challenger accident, and the External Tank, whose failure caused the Columbia accident. The only thing to be scrapped is the Shuttle orbiter. The result will be a system that's even more expensive system than the current Shuttle.

> Yet fiscal conservatism can be shortsighted and foolish at times.

So, spending hundreds of billions to reenact the dead-end Apollo program is far-sighted?

Increasing the cost of space transportation is wise?

Strange how the "center right" now thinks fiscal conservatism is a dirty word and merely wants to copy liberal spending programs.

> If we're lucky the Vision will keep its funding and servicing the ISS will fall to the private sector

So, private enterprise gets to fly a token 4-6 flights a year to ISS -- enough to say NASA is "helping" the private sector, but not enough to significantly reduce the cost of access to space, which might embarass NASA?

While the bulk of NASA's budget goes to maintain the National Socialist Space Transportation System?

Gorbachev called that "using capitalism to save socialism." It didn't work for the Soviet Union. Why does the writer think it will work for NASA?

> The better option is to leave the exploration missions alone and to get serious about
> developing private sector alternatives for lower Earth orbit. If talk alone could launch
> spacecraft there'd be fleets of ships in space now launched by the boasts of private
> space advocates.

Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

I guess the writer doesn't know that private enterprise produced the first new manned spacecraft in 25 years -- something NASA failed to do, after numerous attempts, which cost the taxpayers billions of dollars.

When Mike Griffin worked for OSC, he got over $100 million in NASA money to build a suborbital vehicle -- X-34 -- which failed. Burt Rutan spent just $25 million to build a suborbital vehicle, whichsuceeeded.

Yet the "center right" still believes Big Government, not private enterprise, is the best way to explore space?
 
We must go back to an Apollo-like vehicle if we are to go to the Moon and Mars. The Shuttle simply cannot do it. If you wish to stay in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) while China continues its vision to go to the Moon, then keep the shuttle going and kill the CEV.

The Shuttle never achieved its goal of being a low-cost vehicle to LEO. Perhaps if we had some vehicle that would stay in orbit and go between the Moon and the ISS (never landing on either), then you might be able to justify the Shuttle. If we want to go to the Moon and Mars, we need a new vehicle.

I'm sure that NASA would look at any vehicle that Burt Rutan can build that will reach the ISS. I would love for Rutan to design a cheap vehicle to reach the ISS, the Moon, and Mars!

One thing we should remember. Historically, the military has led the way in exploration. It was the libertarian icon, Thomas Jefferson, that funded Lewis and Clark ... that's Captains (US Army) Lewis and Clark.

I hope Sir Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic are successful in building a space hotel and a transportation system. Regulators should get out of the way and let them at it. But we need NASA to press forward to the Moon and Mars for scientific exploration. If successful, private enterprise will follow.
 
> We must go back to an Apollo-like vehicle if we
> are to go to the Moon and Mars. The Shuttle simply cannot do it.

Your first statement does not follow from the second. Just because the Shuttle can't go to the Moon doesn't mean NASA has to go back to Apollo. There are many other options, almost all of which are cheaper than Apollo II.

> One thing we should remember. Historically, the military
> has led the way in exploration. It was the libertarian icon,
> Thomas Jefferson, that funded Lewis and Clark ... that's
> Captains (US Army) Lewis and Clark.

Lewis and Clark did not lead the way. They hired commercial guides (Indians) to lead them. They weren't even the first white men in the Northwest territory. Hunters and trappers had been there first.

More importantly, Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery was specifically charged with finding resources *for commercial development*. Their expedition about three years. Then, the Corps of Discovery was disbanded and replaced by government incentives for private citizens to develop the new territories.

That's not what the government did with space. Instead of creating incentives for the private sector, the government decided to keep NASA around forever. Now, 40 years after "Lewis and Clark" landed on the Moon, the government wants to send "Lewis and Clark" back to the Moon.

Also, as you point out, Lewis was a *military* officer. The military did not lead western exploration, but it did play a major role.

In space, the military has not been allowed to play the same role. The development of military spaceplanes, such as the X-20 DynaSoar, was cancelled for Cold War propaganda reasons. Kennedy and Johnson wanted NASA to have sole charge of manned space activities.

The current vision of space exploration continues to slight the military, as well as the commercial sector. The government is spending billions to develop a new Apollo while Military Spaceplane languishes, allowing foreign nations to take the lead in that area. To pay for Apollo On Steroids, NASA is even gutting aeronautical research, which is of vital importance to the military and commercial sectors.

> we need NASA to press forward to the Moon and Mars for
> scientific exploration. If successful, private
> enterprise will follow.

Why didn't private enterprise follow NASA to the Moon in the 1970's?

They couldn't. NASA made it too expensive. There was nothing private enterprise could do on the Moon that would justify the cost of Apollo capsules and Saturn Vs. Now, NASA is deliberately recreating that high-cost infrastructure. The current Administrator refuses to even consider money-saving alternatives.

What makes you think the result will be different this time?
 
"There are many other options, almost all of which are cheaper than Apollo II."

If X-Rocket has one, launch it and let's see it. I'm all for cheaper ways to get into Space. We know that Apollo worked. If you have a cheaper way that is beyond the design stage, then put it up for the world to see.

The Air Force uses the Shuttle for secret military missions. If the Shuttle had been success at being a low-cost system, then Vandenburg would be launching missions. Without the Shuttle, perhaps the Air Force can justify spending for its own Spaceplane for high altitude and LEO missions.

Lewis and Clark were to first lead any organized effort. If we could walk to the Moon, I'm sure people would be on the way.

"Because of the success of the Corps of Discovery the Army was placed in the key role of the explorations and settlements of the West. The West was open to the world for further expositions to occur of other Army men: such as Lieutenant Zebulon Pike, and Captain Benjamin Louis Eulalie Bonneville." An Army Legacy: The Lewis and Clark Expedition.

If we had gone to the Moon and STAYED the first time, there I'm certain there would be commercial development by now. Kind of along the lines that trading posts were often established outside the gates of an Army fort. If we go back and STAY, the commerce will follow.

I've been encouraged about NASA since Griffin has taken charge. Maybe it will get out of the commercial launch business and turn that all over to the private sector. NASA should focus on exploration and research.
 
> If X-Rocket has one, launch it and let's see it. I'm
> all for cheaper ways to get into Space.

You're being disingenuous. I never said X=Rocket had a cheaper way. But Boeing and Lockheed do (Delta and Atlas), ILS does (Soyuz), and SpaceX almost does (Falcon.)

> We know that Apollo worked.

That depends on what you mean by "worked." If your goal is to make spaceflight so expensive that no one will go to the Moon for another 40 years -- then, yes, Apollo worked.

We also know that Apollo killed three astronauts because NASA was too arrogant to listen to Scott Crossfield and others who tried to warn them about the dangers.

That was after NASA squashed Pete Conrad's Lunar Gemini plan -- which could have made it to the Moon sooner than Apollo, for more money, with less technical risk.

The same arrogance behind those decisions is similar to the arrogance we see today when anyone questions Apollo on Steroids.

> The Air Force uses the Shuttle for secret military missions.

Your information is badly out of date. The Air Force hasn't used the Shuttle in years.

> Without the Shuttle, perhaps the Air Force can justify
> spending for its own Spaceplane for high altitude and
> LEO missions.

The Air Force isn't doing anything more than drop tests with Boeing's X-37. There is no funding to do more, because of current White House space policy which is entirely NASA-centric.

> Lewis and Clark were to first lead any organized effort.

The mountain men may not have been "organized," but they were there first. So were the Indians (and they were pretty organized, with chiefs and tribal councils). Exploration was never limited to the 18th-Century equivalent of NASA.

> If we had gone to the Moon and STAYED the first time,
> there I'm certain there would be commercial development
> by now.

Without reliable, affordable transportation and commercial infrastructure, NASA couldn't afford to stay. How many times must the US government make the same mistake?

> Kind of along the lines that trading posts were
> often established outside the gates of an Army fort.

The difference being, the Army didn't insist on spending $20 billion to develop its own super-expensive breed of horse, which "equinauts" could only afford to ride a few times a year.

Your fundamental model is sound, that. Bases on the Moon will be established by civilian settlers, and the US military will eventually be there to protect them.

That has nothing to do with Apollo on Steroids, however. NASA is neither a commercial settler nor a military organization.

> Maybe [NASA] will get out of the commercial
> launch business and turn that all over to the private
> sector. NASA should focus on exploration and research.

Agreed, but that's not what Griffin is doing. He wants to develop not one but two new huge (and hugely expensive) launch systems.
 
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